'There's nobody to talk to': New Air Canada booking system leaves some travellers hanging

A new reservation system at Air Canada is creating roadblocks of frustration for some customers wanting to change flights, use rewards points or request bereavement fares.

Changing flights and redeeming reward points two issues customers are facing

Air Canada says the new booking system took two years to develop and that issues during a transition period are normal. (Mike Hillman/CBC)

A new reservation system at Air Canada is causing frustration for some customers trying to change flights, use rewards points or request bereavement fares.

Aaron Churchill, an interior designer in Edmonton, tried to change a flight he booked for Jan. 30 after learning his client in Columbus, Ohio needed to reschedule a job. 

He entered his reservation number on Air Canada's website but it wouldn't allow him to reschedule online. 

Churchill called the reservation line, as directed by Air Canada, and got a recorded message, over and over. 

"I keep trying to call back and I keep trying to get a hold of someone and there's absolutely no one to get a hold of," Churchill told CBC News Monday. "I've tried to communicate with Air Canada at least 28 times and I can't get through."
"My frustration is — here you can book online, they will gladly take your money but then when you go to try to communicate with somebody at Air Canada they actually don't allow you to talk to a human being."

Churchill said he might have to drive to the airport to talk to a customer service agent in person. 

In a statement to CBC News, Air Canada said the new reservation system that launched in mid-November is working as planned, for the most part. 

"The new system, implemented after a two-year project involving 700,000 hours of development, is highly complex and, as with any IT project of this magnitude, a transition period is normal and issues do arise." 

The airline said the issues are mainly affecting customers trying to change existing bookings.

The customer service line plays a message in English and French recorded by the director for contact centres worldwide, who apologizes for the delays.

"Call volumes are significantly higher than normal. Due to current volumes, I apologize that we are not able to place you on hold at this time," the message says.

The recording advises customers to contact Air Canada within 24 hours of their travel date if the request relates to an existing booking.

If their flight is more than 24 hours away, it asks customers to call back closer to that date.

The company has a web page dedicated to frequently asked questions, on which it admits some Aeroplan members are unable to redeem miles for flight rewards.

Some accounts haven't been transferred over to the new system, it says, but they're "working as quickly as possible to restore full functionality to these accounts."

Customers aren't able to confirm same-day changes online. 

"Until we complete our system roll-out, this functionality is temporarily unavailable through self-serve channels."

The company admits the new system hasn't been implemented completely, that it's expected to be rolled out in full in the "new year."

Aaron Churchill, middle, said he's tried to contact Air Canada 28 times since he booked a flight on Dec. 12. (Aaron Churchill)

It's little comfort to customers like Laurence Robinson looking for a bereavement ticket to Kingston, Jamaica, to attend his grandfather's funeral in mid-January. 

He tried to apply online and saw that customers are required to call when requesting a bereavement fare. 

"There's nobody to talk to. The machine just tells you options of how you can do things online — it says nothing about bereavement."  

Robinson said he was very close to his grandfather and that many family members are expected to attend the funeral. 

"I mean, I have to go no matter what the cost is," he said. "But I was just hoping the more I could reduce my expense on the flight, because we're all contributing to the funeral, I could provide more to the funeral." 

Robinson sent the company an email and received a reply, saying "You can rest assured that an Air Canada representative will get back to you as soon as possible."

In the message, the company said it may take up to three weeks for a response. 

Robinson said he ended up buying a regular ticket but hopes to retroactively receive the bereavement discount.