Edmonton

Air Canada credit card verification policy leaves woman stranded in Thailand

Air Canada has apologized to an Alberta man after his wife was barred from an overseas flight due to a credit card verification issue.

The airline apologized and said large, last minute credit card purchases are often reviewed to prevent fraud

Steve Wacher and his wife Nantiwa Phoophong married a year and a half ago. (Supplied)

Air Canada has apologized to an Alberta man after his wife was barred from an overseas flight due to a credit card verification issue.

On Monday, while on vacation at his parent's farm near Sylvan Lake, Steve Wacher booked a last-minute flight through Air Canada so his wife in Thailand could join him.

His wife, Nantiwa Phoophong, arrived two and half hours prior to the flight's departure at Bangkok's Suvarnabhumi Airport. At the desk of Air Canada's partner company, All Nippon Airways, she was told the credit card used to book the flight needed to be verified.

Because the flight was paid for with Wacher's card, she was told that her husband needed to verify the card with Air Canada before she could board the plane.

By the time Wacher called Air Canada, the plane had departed without Phoophong.

Second ticket purchase 'unnecessary,' Air Canada says

Wacher said he thought Air Canada would get her on the next flight, but after numerous phone calls over the next 12 hours, he gave up and paid for another flight — one that cost almost $3,000 — for his wife to fly to Edmonton.

He then drove two hours to the Edmonton International Airport after being told by an Air Canada service representative to arrive in person for a possible refund. But at that point, he said he just wanted accountability.

"It's been terrible," Wacher said. "You pay a premium cost because it's a last minute ticket. Almost $3,000 is a lot for an economy class ticket. I booked through an Air Canada website for security and peace of mind."

On Tuesday afternoon, after he spoke with CBC News, Air Canada offered an apology and a refund for the original plane ticket he purchased for his wife, and an extra $500 credit. He accepted the refund but refused the extra credit, saying it wasn't enough.

In a statement, Air Canada said large, last minute credit card purchases are often reviewed to prevent fraud. Despite this policy, they said Wacher's case was not handled properly, resulting in the "unnecessary" purchase of the second ticket.

"We sincerely regret hearing Mr. Wacher's experience and have looked into what happened," the statement said.

"We are in contact with Mr. Wacher to confirm we are refunding the second ticket purchased, and to offer a goodwill gesture for our handling which did not meet our customer service standard of care, in addition to our heartfelt apology during a difficult time for him."

Steve Wacher wanted his wife to join him as he visited his childhood farm near Sylvan Lake. (Supplied)

'No justification' for the headache, passenger rights advocate says

Dr. Gabor Lukacs is a passenger rights advocate based out of Halifax who deals with Canadian airline complaints. He says Air Canada's policy to check last minute tickets for valid credit information creates an avoidable inconvenience for passengers.

"In my view, there's no justification for this," Lukacs said. "This is unreasonable and twisting the rules where it makes no sense."

He says fair compensation is the refund of the extra ticket, along with a refund to cover expenses like gas, hotel and meals, provide the passenger $800 denied boarding compensation as per the tariff and a bump up to business class as a gesture of goodwill.

"The Canadian Transport Agency is cozy with airlines, and the reason why airlines get away with this kind of behaviour," said Lukacs. "I'm calling on the government to step in and direct the CTA to enforce the existing rules."

Despite Air Canada's apology, Wacher said he is still upset with having to deal with two days of inconvenience when he could have been focusing on family members he hasn't seen in a year.

"It's shocking. Zero support by a carrier that represents our country," he said.

"People ... should know what to expect when you have an issue with Air Canada."

travis.mcewan@cbc.ca

@travismcewancbc