British Columbia

Unfriendly skies: 'Super Elite' flyer claims Air Canada clipped his wings

As one of Air Canada's most frequent flyers, Eric Wong claims he once soared with the members of the airline's Super Elite. But the Vancouver businessman is now suing the airline for allegedly clipping his wings by revoking his special status.

Eric Wong claims airline revoked Altitude status after he refused to explain last minute cancellation

As a 'Super Elite' Air Canada passenger, Eric Wong says he was once a welcome face to airline personnel like those in this promotional picture. But Wong claims those smiles have long since faded. (Air Canada)

As one of Air Canada's most frequent flyers, Eric Wong once soared with the members of the airline's Super Elite.

But the Vancouver businessman claims the carrier clipped his wings in retaliation for his last-minute cancellation of a flight after he had already checked in and cleared security.

Wong is now suing Air Canada in B.C. Supreme Court for allegedly revoking his status and writing negative things about him on its computer records.

"It's not as if he was seen with explosives or something like that, but they treat everything as if it's a threat to security," says Wong's lawyer, Don Sorochan.

"And if you end up in an argument with them, you're liable to get arrested."

'He was such a frequent passenger'

According to his notice of claim, Wong travels on a frequent basis throughout Canada, the United States, Europe and Asia as an information technology consultant.

But the lawsuit says he's not your typical passenger.

As an air travel hobbyist, Eric Wong claims he rarely checked bags. He travelled light and travelled often. And he claims he paid a premium for his privileges. (CBC)

First of all, "his business is of such a nature that he can adjust his travel plans on short or no notice in the event of changed flight circumstances."

And second, Wong is an air travel hobbyist, "a passenger who uses the existing tariff and travel rules set by airlines, credit cards and hotels to earn free or reduced cost travel benefits including flights, lodging and other upgrades."

He claims he never checks bags, often books and cancels last minute — and pays for the privilege.

Wong flew enough to qualify as an Air Canada Altitude Super Elite member — a status conferred on passengers who earn 100,000 Aeroplan status miles or 95 status flight segments annually.

He claims he also took part in the airline's "Earn Your Wings" promotion, a contest in which passengers like him turn their passion for flight into bonus points and extra air miles.

All that combined to make him a familiar face to the airline's employees.

"Mr. Wong was known to Air Canada personnel," the notice of claim says.

"Mr. Wong's travel patterns … were also well known to Air Canada personnel with whom, because he was such a frequent passenger, he dealt with frequently."

The unfriendly skies ...

But the skies allegedly turned unfriendly on Jan. 10, 2016, after Wong told a customer service agent in the secure-side YVR Maple Leaf Lounge he no longer wished to fly on the flight he had checked into.

Because he was already in the international departures area, he claims he asked for an escort to get him back out past Canada Customs.

As a member of Air Canada's Altitude Super Elite, Eric Wong claims, he racked up well over 100,000 Aeroplan points a year. (Andrew Vaughan/Canadian Press)

"The Air Canada Maple Leaf customer service agent insisted, in a stern manner, that Mr. Wong provide a reason for his change of travel plans," the claim says.

"Mr. Wong advised the Air Canada Maple Leaf lounge customer service agent that he did not wish to fly and wanted to leave the lounge."

Wong claims the agent told him to stay where he was while she "made numerous telephone calls and conducted computer terminal searches."

He was eventually escorted out, but 10 days later, Wong claims Air Canada told him his Altitude Super Elite status was suspended indefinitely.

The reason? He had "cleared security and accessed the international or trans-border sterile areas of the airport, possibly, without the purpose of travelling."

Wong claims a lawyer for Air Canada later demanded justification for his decision to cancel his booking.

But he says the company's own rules — for Wong's fare class — say that's not necessary: "free cancellation within 24 hours of booking. You'll get a full refund — no questions asked."

'Records contain something negative'

In the weeks after his status was suspended, Wong claims he encountered a series of delays in which Air Canada employees scrutinized his identification and spoke to corporate security.

He says he was also denied entry into the Maple Leaf lounge, despite having a business class ticket with Star Alliance member United Airlines, which entitled him entry.

"Because of the way Mr. Wong has been treated, and what was said to him, by Air Canada personnel after they have accessed Air Canada computer records while dealing with him, it is apparent that the Air Canada computer records contain something negative about him," the claim says.

Wong is suing for breach of contract and negligence.

He claims the airline's corporate security has engaged in "surveillance and monitoring" of his online and offline activities to retroactively justify their "high-handed actions."

Air Canada declined to comment on the case while it is before the courts.

None of the allegations in the lawsuit have been proven in court.


Jason Proctor


Jason Proctor is a reporter in British Columbia for CBC News and has covered the B.C. courts and the justice system extensively.


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