North

Whitehorse man claims Air Canada lost his dog, leading to 30-hour ordeal

Bobbie Milnes is frustrated and looking for compensation after being separated from his dog during a cross-country flight. Air Canada says the dog was not lost, and it is going to reach out to Milnes.

Airline says dog was not lost and it will reach out to Bobbie Milnes directly

Bobbie Milnes and his dog Spruce. Milnes chose not to fly to Whitehorse when Spruce, who was checked in a crate, missed the flight that Milnes and his family were travelling on to Vancouver. (Submitted by Bobbie Milnes)

A Whitehorse man is frustrated and looking for compensation after being separated from his dog during a cross-country flight turned into a 30-hour ordeal.

Bobbie Milnes, his wife, and his two children recently returned to Yukon after visiting relatives in Eastern Canada. Their flight path home, via Air Canada, was relatively simple: Toronto, to Vancouver, and up to Whitehorse.

Accompanying them, as he had several times, was their dog Spruce, who was in a crate and checked through to Whitehorse. 

However, when their Vancouver flight landed, Milnes says he was called to the front of the plane, where he was given some unwelcome news: Spruce wasn't on their flight.

"They said: 'your dog is on a flight, but it's not your flight,'" he said. "It's on its way now, but it won't be here until just after midnight."

Eventually, Milnes and Spruce were able to go to a hotel, but only had a few hours to rest before heading back to the Vancouver airport. (Submitted by Bobbie Milnes)

Milnes and his family, who landed around 7 p.m., had a tight connection to their Whitehorse-bound flight. The decision was made for Milnes to stay in Vancouver and wait for Spruce, while his wife and children continued on with their luggage.

Just after midnight, Milnes was reunited with Spruce, who "was a total mess," Milnes said. 

"She was pretty upset ... the crate was just soaked in I don't know what. It was not good."

Milnes and Spruce were both re-booked on the first flight to Whitehorse the next morning and Air Canada gave them a hotel room. They wouldn't have much time to sleep — the next flight out was just after 7 a.m. — but that was just the beginning.

'I could walk around with dignity'

Milnes returned to the airport at about 6 a.m. to check Spruce in for the flight. Without any luggage, he used his belt as a leash and fed her bacon and eggs from a sandwich.

However, the pair received unwelcome news at the check-in counter — the early flight to Whitehorse was full. 

Frustrated, Milnes asked to speak with a manager.

"I said, you know, I'm sorry, but I'm tired, I'm stressed, I was supposed to be on this flight," he said. "My dog was missing, I've been separated from my family, all of these things.

"And she looked at me and said, "Sir, that was the past. This is the present.'"

Unsatisfied, Milnes spoke with another manager — and then another one. On his third attempt, the manager listened to his concerns, Milnes said, and provided him with a leash for Spruce, allowing him to put his belt back on.

"I could walk around with dignity. And my dog."

With his luggage home with his family in Whitehorse, Milnes used his belt as a leash for Spruce. (Submitted by Bobbie Milnes)

That manager booked Milnes and Spruce on a 2:30 p.m. flight home and gave them a day room in a hotel.

"So, in the end, by the time I landed, [it] was about 30 hours," he said. "What should have been a seven-hour travel experience was about 30 hours."

Airline says dog wasn't lost

In a statement, Air Canada said "this passenger's dog was never lost," but was "inadvertently not boarded on the same flight as the passenger." The airline said it would be reaching out directly to Milnes.

Milnes said he did receive an apology over the phone from Air Canada, but disputes the airline's claim that his dog was not lost at the Toronto airport.

"They lost it in Pearson," he said. "They didn't have it on our flight."

He said he's seeking financial compensation.

"In the end, they could provide no assurances of what would happen to our dog. Obviously, we couldn't trust them anymore."

Check pets as cargo, says expert

John Gradek, a lecturer in aviation management at McGill University, suggests that Air Canada passengers ship their pets as cargo. (McGill University)

John Gradek, a lecturer in aviation management at McGill University, says there are "very little statutory rules" for airlines when it comes to dealing with a live animal checked as luggage.

The animals are held with other baggage, he explained, with no facility to provide special handling. Airlines have their own internal rules, but many do not handle the animals in any way, he said, to prevent potential escapes from crates.

This doesn't change even if the animal is delayed in their trip, he said.

"They don't know if that dog's been there two hours, four hours, 12 hours, 18 hours," he said. "They have no way of knowing."

Instead, Gradek recommends that pets be shipped via Air Canada cargo, which he says "has done a great job" in defining their processes around shipping live animals. Passengers can request that their pet be shipped on their same flight, he said.

The option may be more expensive and requires checking in and picking up the animal at the cargo terminal, "but from a pet care perspective, the Air Canada cargo option is what I would do when I'm travelling with my dog," Gradek said.

As for Spruce, Milnes said she's "recovering," and that everything is getting back to normal. 

Will he fly with Air Canada again?

"Certainly not with the dog," he said.   "I think that is an achievable goal, never flying Air Canada with a dog again."

Written by Garrett Hinchey, with files from Elyn Jones, George Maratos

Comments

To encourage thoughtful and respectful conversations, first and last names will appear with each submission to CBC/Radio-Canada's online communities (except in children and youth-oriented communities). Pseudonyms will no longer be permitted.

By submitting a comment, you accept that CBC has the right to reproduce and publish that comment in whole or in part, in any manner CBC chooses. Please note that CBC does not endorse the opinions expressed in comments. Comments on this story are moderated according to our Submission Guidelines. Comments are welcome while open. We reserve the right to close comments at any time.