An Edmonton woman says Air Canada ruined a vacation by not allowing her father travel with her and her children.
The airline then sold his seat to someone else and refused to issue a refund or admit it was wrong, saying it's not liable for a mistake that was made in "good faith."
In June 2013, Yan Yuan, arrived at Edmonton International Airport with her two young children and her 67-year-old father, Xiaoping Yuan, for a long-awaited family vacation in Cuba.
She had checked in online the day before and printed the family’s boarding passes.
But as they were checking in their bags, an Air Canada agent asked to see their travel documents.
Yuan and her children were cleared because their Canadian passports were in order, but the airline refused to let her father board, insisting that as a Chinese-passport holder he required a special visa.
“I was speechless,” Yuan said. “Very, very much in shock, because I don’t anticipate this at all.”
Passenger had done her research
She said she had done her research before buying the vacation package and knew for certain her father needed only his passport to board the plane.
Yuan chose Cuba because it’s one of the few vacation spots to which Chinese citizens can travel to without a special visa.
She said the all-inclusive vacation was to be a nice break for her and a reward to her father, whom she says made huge sacrifices so she could start a new life in Canada.
Yuan, who moved from China in 1997, says her father spent years caring for her dying mother in China, then made annual visits to Edmonton to help her with her two young children.
“Being a single parent is very difficult," Yuan said. "I don’t really have much support here.”
Thirty minutes before boarding time, Yuan was faced with either abandoning the vacation altogether or leaving her father, who doesn’t speak English, behind.
She called a friend to drive her father back to her home while she and her children went to Cuba without him.
Yuan was particularly insulted that Air Canada sold her father’s seat on the plane to someone else.
While caring for her eight and three-year-old sons by herself was not the vacation she was expecting, it was Air Canada’s response when she returned that she says ruined the vacation.
“They refused to do anything, They don’t admit they made a mistake.”
Airline denies responsibility
Air Canada did apologize twice, but not for its mistake.
In emails to Yuan, an Air Canada customer service agent said “we are sorry to learn Mr. Yuan was unable to travel.” And later, “we are sorry we have been able to redress your complaint.”
Air Canada refused to compensate Yuan for the cost of her father’s vacation, saying it had made the mistake “in good faith.”
It said every ticket is sold subject to several conditions, including that, “No liability shall attach to carrier if carrier in good faith determines that what it understands to be applicable law, government regulation, demand, order or requirement, requires that it refuse and it does refuse to carry a passenger.”
When Yuan persisted in her complaint, the airline would not concede her point. In a final email, the customer service agent wrote: “the continual exchange of emails will not alter our position.”
Yuan then complained to the Canadian Transportation Agency, which regulates air travel.
Three months later, Diane Fusco, a CTA investigator, delivered her findings to Yuan.
Airlines are free to set their own terms of carriage, the ruling said and Air Canada had abided by its rules, specifically the condition that limits its liability for mistakes made “in good faith.”
The CTA’s intervention however did prompt Air Canada to issue a refund for her father’s lost airfare, though not the unused week at the Cuban resort.
Yuan then called Go Public, seeking the rest of the money and an apology.
Air Canada declined a request for an interview. In an email exchange with Go Public, spokeswoman Angela Mah reiterated the airline’s obligation to make sure passengers have correct documentation and that the Cuban regulations appeared ambiguous to the airline agent.
Mah said Air Canada refunded the airfare in September after the CTA requested it review the case and says the refund for the hotel was held up because of internal miscommunication between the airline and its holiday division, Air Canada Vacations.
Air Canada Vacations finally issued the remaining refund more than 25 weeks after Xaioping Yuan’s aborted vacation.
'Good faith is not enough,' advocate says
Gabor Lukacs, a former math professor who has become a high-profile critic of Canadian airlines, told Go Public the CTA does a poor job of standing up for passengers.
“Essentially, the airline can say, ‘We don’t pay, take us to the agency. Worst case scenario is we have to pay what we would have had to pay otherwise.’”
“Good faith is not enough,” Lukacs said. “If they make a mistake, they have to pay for it.”
He said the federal government or the courts should force Air Canada to change its policy of “good faith” and replace it with a standard of correctness, which would leave it liable for compensation and other damages.
Yuan says the fight has been frustrating and calls Air Canada “stubborn and arrogant” for refusing to admit its mistake.
She’s worried about what will happen if she tries again to take her father on holiday with her.
“It’s a lot of money for me," she said.
“They are obviously wrong and don’t admit it, and they don’t want to take any responsibilities.”