Air Canada student flight pass restrictions raise concerns

With Christmas just around the corner, a Vancouver parent is raising concerns about Air Canada's seat availability for students who have reserved seating using student flight passes.

Parent says Air Canada has blocked off pre-Christmas students flights, but seats still available to public

Passengers queue at an Air Canada check-in desk at Trudeau Airport in Montreal. (Graham Hughes/Canadian Press)

With Christmas just around the corner, a Vancouver parent is raising concerns about Air Canada's seat availability for students who have reserved seating using student flight passes.

Lawyer Sikander Visram is used to looking at contracts, but the father of three said he never imagined spending days reviewing the terms of student flight passes sold by Air Canada.

"Flights are being shown as sold out on the 19th and the 20th, but if you go on the regular Air Canada schedule it shows the flights are available," said Visrarm, "Essentially what's happening the way i see it, is Air Canada has blocked all those flights and they're trying to sell them for a higher price." 

Visram has three sons in university in Eastern Canada and is trying to fly them home for Christmas. He says he paid thousands of dollars for student passes and says the only requirement was to book within 21 days.

But Visram says that's when he ran into trouble.

"Certainly within 21 days I'm trying to book a flight for Dec. 19 and Jan.1. We're within the 21 days. It's just even when you're within the 21 days, they've blocked the the flights available," he said.

Air Canada's response

In an emailed statement Thursday, Air Canada said that student flight passes only apply to their lowest economy fares called Tango.

"These are the fares which are the first to sell out during peak travel periods of the year such as the Christmas holidays, which is why we make it very clear that flights must be booked at least 21 days in advance to avoid sell-out situations," said Air Canada spokeswoman Angela Mah.

"That being said, availability of seats and fares is always dynamic and on occasion, lower fares...some may become available closer in for various reasons due to booking cancellations. Air Canada's fares remain competitive with both other airlines in Canada."

Air Canada said it couldn't comment on Visram's specific case, but after our interview Friday with Visram, the airline sent him an email with e-tickets for the dates he'd requested—dates that previously appeared sold out on the student flight passes website.

Consumer advocates say situations like this will continue to arise, until Canada gets a passenger bill of rights. 

"They can oversell and overbook their seats at will," said Cran. "That is their inventory. I know of no other industry in Canada where you can sell something you haven't got, get paid in advance, and then not provide it. But that's what's happening"

Visram says while he's relieved, he'd still like to see some changes to Air Canada's student flight pass system.

"What I'd like Air Canada to do is recognize that they have commitments to students and students have certain special needs so they need to honour the terms and conditions of their student flight passes," he said.

With files from Bal Brach