An Edmonton couple say a booking mix-up left them no choice but to pay more than $5,300 to fly the husband home from Portugal, even though he had already paid for his flight and had a confirmed reservation.

A month later, his wife says Air Canada still hasn't properly explained why. 

But in a statement this week to Go Public, Air Canada says it has reviewed the file and will offer the Brasileiros a refund.

"We apologize for the inconvenience caused due to the ticketing error and misunderstanding the issue when initially contacted," wrote Angela Mah, an Air Canada spokeswoman.

Dorinda Brasileiro said the agent she initially spoke to on the phone was sympathetic, but told her they would have to complain via email.

Her husband, Joaquiim, received an automated reply from Air Canada saying its response time was up to 20 business days, and although the Brasileiros received a personalized reply the next day, they think the airline completely misunderstood the problem.


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"We've flown Air Canada before and we haven't had a problem," Brasileiro said.

"But when there is a problem there's no one that you can talk to. The agents can't help you."

The Brasileiros said what should have been a simple change to Joaquim's itinerary was fraught with problems from the beginning.

He was originally ticketed to return home Jan. 17, but wanted to change it to Jan. 30 after his boss gave him an extra two weeks off.

Dorinda had booked their flights through Expedia. The company directed her to Air Canada to make the change, which they did on Jan. 7.

The couple say they were locked out of their email and it was only on Jan. 28 that they discovered the return flight had been changed to Feb. 3 by mistake.

They say that after they spent two hours on long distance calls Air Canada was able to change it to Jan. 30.

But when they arrived at the airport in Oporto, Portugal, for a six a.m. flight, the Lufthansa agent told them that he could see Joaquim had a reservation, but the system wouldn't allow him to print a ticket.

Lufthansa is an Air Canada partner in the Star Alliance network and was operating the first two legs of the Brasileiros' return journey.

'Not much choice'

Joaquim said he felt he had no choice but to buy another ticket and sort it out later. "My time is up, I have to be back to work so I don't have much choice," he said.

The airfare worked out to more than $5,300 Canadian.

After their return, an Air Canada customer service agent wrote "customers can cancel a booking without penalty for 24 hours after a reservation is made or altered … [a]s you did not cancel the booking within 24 hours after the change was made, the normal fare rules apply."

The couple then called Go Public because Air Canada's response failed to recognize Joaquim had paid for the flight and had a booking reference, but couldn't fly.

Despite recent profits, the airline industry has typically been a marginal or money-losing proposition, according to Kyle Murray of the University of Alberta's School of Retailing.

Kyle Murray

Kyle Murray of the University of Alberta's School of Business says companies' automated customer systems can frustrate people. (CBC)

Murray said companies operating in this kind of environment develop automated systems to deal with complaints in the most cost-efficient way possible, but these systems can seem bureaucratic and impersonal.

"When you're on the complaining side, that can feel pretty cold," Murray said.

He suggested Air Canada should separate complaints into different response levels. "A grumpy flight attendant, that's one level of problem. A $5,000 issue is another."

Murray said a claim as large as the Brasileiros' isn't easy to solve but a human voice might at least assure them their complaint was being taken seriously.

Dorinda said she couldn't agree more. "I know the technology has changed but we still need people to talk to," she said.

She said she's happy to get a satisfactory conclusion.