A Newfoundland couple travelling home from Portugal was shocked to discover at the airport that Air Canada had suspended their tickets — and the only way to get back to St. John's was to book new one-way fares for almost three times what they had originally paid for the entire trip.

"I was flabbergasted. My wife said she thought I was going to have a stroke," said Randell Earle, a retired lawyer.

'My wife said she thought I was going to have a stroke.' - Randell Earle

"We ended up having to spend $6,100 to get a flight back to St. John's."

Earle was later told that the problem related to a "fraud detection technique" — something he didn't understand, given the fact the same credit card had been used to book the outbound flight, without any problems.

Within hours of CBC News contacting Air Canada for comment on Friday, the Earles said the airline contacted them with a proposal to settle out of court, offering to pay the full amount for the new tickets plus other expenses. 

They expect to receive a cheque by the end of the week.

In an emailed statement to CBC, Air Canada said: "We have been in contact with the Earle family, however as this is before the courts, it would be inappropriate for us to comment."

Suspended tickets

In December, Earle and his wife Claudia booked a five-week round trip from St. John's to Portugal through Air Canada's website for about $2,400. They paid by credit card.

The couple travelled to Portugal on Feb. 13. Earle said they had a wonderful time in Lisbon and Porto, until their return to the airport on March 21.

"We go to check in, and we were told, 'Air Canada has cancelled your ticket. You have to go to customer care,'" he said.

Earle said they spent the next three hours getting the runaround from airport agents. Multiple calls on a pay phone to Air Canada and Star Alliance's customer care lines didn't resolve matters.

Randell and Claudia Earle in Portugal

Randell and Claudia Earle visited Lisbon and Porto during their trip to Portugal. (Submitted by Randell Earle)

The couple was told their only option to get home was to book a new flight online.

The next day, the Earles boarded the expensive flight, and arrived in St. John's 23 hours later.

Seeking compensation

When they got home, Earle started his quest for compensation.

He sent an email to Air Canada's customer relations, and received a response several days later.

In the email, Air Canada "apologized for any inconvenience our procedures may have caused you."

The email attributed their travel woes to issues with fraudulent activity when purchasing tickets with credit cards over the phone or on the internet.

Air Canada new logo

Air Canada declined comment on the situation, noting that it remains before the courts. (Travis Pereira/CBC)

"[Air Canada's fraud prevention team] uses fraud detection tools to monitor all bookings and handles tips provided by various sources such as credit card companies," the email read. 

"When the results from these tools are inconclusive, the fraud prevention team will request that the airport agent confirms the details of the purchased ticket. It is similar to the requirement to provide the actual card when making a purchase in a store."

The email continued: "Although we cannot guarantee that this will not happen again, we hope that this explanation helps you understand that it is not personal to you, but rather a necessary fraud prevention technique to protect our passengers, credit card holders, and Air Canada."

Earle called Air Canada's response "bafflegab."

"I sent them back an email saying, 'You're missing the point; we want compensation.' Gave them a week to respond, and told them if, 'I don't have this resolved in a week, I'm going to initiate court proceedings,'" he said.

"We didn't hear a word back from them. They just stonewalled."

Small claims court

On May 4, Earle filed a suit at small claims court in St. John's for $6,523, to recoup the money they spent on the new plane tickets, plus hotel, meals, and taxi rides during their unexpected overnight stay in Lisbon.

On Friday, Air Canada called the Earles with an offer to settle out of court.

Randell Earle on the phone with Air Canada

Randell Earle said he received a phone call from Air Canada shortly after CBC News had contacted the company for comment. (Bruce Tilley/CBC)

The company has agreed to pay that full amount. Earle expects to receive the cash by the end of this week.

"It's a total lack of corporate responsibility," he said.

"They tried to tough it out and hope that we'd go away."

Earle said not everyone is in his position.

"I'm privileged, and I was thrown for a major loop by this," said Earle, whose legal career spanned more than four decades, and saw him argue cases all the way up to the highest court in the land.

"I can't imagine what would happen if this was some young person who scraped together every last cent, so to speak, for a holiday in Portugal, or a senior citizen who wasn't used to navigating the claims court. I mean, it would be terrible for them."

CBC News Investigates