'Appalling': Woman bumped from Air Canada flight misses $10,000 Galapagos cruise

Vicki Russell thought the cruise of the Galapagos Islands she'd booked months in advance would be the trip of a lifetime — until she spoke with an Air Canada agent at the boarding gate.

Vicki Russell says airline staff 'could not have cared less'

Vicki Russell missed her cruise in the Galapagos Islands because she was bumped from an overbooked Air Canada flight. (Vicki Russell)

With airline bumping a hot topic these days, CBC News has heard from many Canadians wanting to share their own sagas.

Vicki Russell's story stood out.

She missed a $10,000 dream cruise of the Galapagos Islands because she was bumped from an overbooked Air Canada flight.

"I was so upset, I thought I was going to cry," Russell said from her home in Toronto. "Air Canada caused me to miss the trip of a lifetime."

The retired lawyer had always wanted to witness the unique wildlife in the Galapagos. She decided that this year she'd finally make her lifelong dream come true.  

After doing extensive research, she booked a National Geographic tour with New York-based Lindblad Expeditions.

It included a round-trip Air Canada flight from Toronto to Miami. In Miami, she would meet up with the tour group and continue on to the Galapagos, off the coast of Ecuador. Everything had been booked more than two months in advance.

Marine iguanas are only found on the Galapagos Islands. (Rodrigo Buenida/AFP/Getty)

On April 1, Russell checked in shortly after 8 a.m. for her 10:55 a.m. Air Canada flight.

Her plans started unravelling about two hours later when she spoke with an Air Canada agent at the boarding gate. Russell says the agent informed her that the Miami flight was overbooked and that she wasn't getting on board because she didn't have a valid ticket.

Russell was dumbfounded because Air Canada had already issued her a boarding pass and checked her luggage for a $25 fee.

"It was extremely upsetting," she said. "The woman could not have been more rude, hostile. In all my years of travelling, I have never had a travel person treat me so badly."

Russell says she stressed to the agent that time was of the essence because she had a connecting flight that evening in Miami and then a cruise to catch.

She also showed the agent her travel documents and managed to contact the tour company to email her a receipt, proving that she had indeed paid for her airline ticket. 

But by then, the gate had closed and the flight was already full.

"I was so distraught," said Russell.

Running out of time

She informed the agent she urgently needed another flight to Miami or she'd miss her Galapagos cruise. Russell says the agent directed her to Air Canada customer service in another section of the terminal, where she had to wait in line for help.

By the time she got to speak with customer service, Russell says she learned it was too late to get another Air Canada flight to Miami to make her connection.

She didn't get her checked luggage back until 2 p.m. — too late to book a flight herself on another airline.

"They could not have cared less," Russell said of the Air Canada staff. "Time did not seem to have any importance to them at all."

Vicki Russell believes if Air Canada had told her at check-in she was being bumped from her flight, she probably would have still made her cruise in time. (CBC)

Russell was devastated when she realized she was going to miss her cruise.

She believes if Air Canada had informed her at check-in that she was being bumped, she would probably have had time to book another flight.

"The series of errors that they made, their lack of apology, their disinterest in helping me is appalling," she said.

'Regrettable situation'

Air Canada confirmed the flight was oversold and says its staff made every effort to find Russell another flight so she wouldn't miss her cruise.

"Our agents worked hard looking for options," spokesperson Peter Fitzpatrick said in an email to CBC News.

"This is a very regrettable situation and we are sorry we were unable to do more to help this customer get to her cruise."

Fitzpatrick didn't address Russell's claim that she'd been accused of not possessing an airline ticket. 

Russell filed a complaint with Air Canada on April 2. It begins with the statement: "Air Canada shattered my dream vacation." She's since received a cheque for $800 compensation.

Russell had paid $10,320 for her trip, including $430 for her round-trip Air Canada flight. 

She says Air Canada should foot the bill. She also wants an apology and explanation from the airline for the way she was treated.

Air Canada said it continues to review the file.

Meanwhile, the tour company has come through with a promising offer. CBC News contacted Lindblad Expeditions and explained why Russell missed her cruise.

The company said it will book another expedition for Russell, covering all costs except her flight to Miami.

"Absolutely fabulous," Russell said of the news, "totally thrilled, excited, relieved." 

She says she's still waiting for a personal apology from Air Canada. She plans to rebook her trip in May and says this time she'll fly to Miami on a different airline.


Sophia Harris

Business reporter

Based in Toronto, Sophia Harris covers consumer and business for CBC News web, radio and TV. She previously worked as a CBC videojournalist in the Maritimes where she won an Atlantic Journalism Award for her work. Contact: