Nova Scotia

Angry with your airline service? Start recording

An air passenger advocate is advising travellers who are in a heated dispute with an airline worker to pull out their phone and record the conversation.

Passenger-rights activist Gabor Lukacs offers advice after Air Canada passengers threatened with 'no-fly list'

Gabor Lukacs has fought and won countless court challenges against airlines, a mission he pursues in his spare time 7:14

An air passenger advocate is advising travellers who are in a heated dispute with an airline worker to pull out their phone and record the conversation.

Gabor Lukacs is offering the advice in response to a group of angry Air Canada travellers in Halifax who missed their connecting flight to Sydney earlier this month. A number of them reported hearing an Air Canada employee threaten to put them on a "no-fly list" and calling police to deal with the verbal dispute.

He said having witnesses could help if no recording was made, as was the case in the recent Halifax incident. 

Lukacs took United Airlines to court for damages over a November 2007 flight from Winnipeg to Chicago that was cancelled due to mechanical failure. During the trial an airline employee alleged that Lukacs was "agitated, forceful" and that "he was yelling at her." 

Gabor Lukacs earns his living as a math professor. He helps airline passengers in his spare time and for free. (The Canadian Press)

But after Lukacs produced a voice recording of their 13-minute conversation, the worker admitted to the judge he had not yelled. The Court of Queen's Bench of Manitoba judge ruled the airline worker "exaggerated the tone and loudness of the plaintiff's words."

"In Canada, you don't need the airline's permission to record the employee or the employee's permission to record a conversation with them," Lukacs told CBC.

"That's what I have done in those two cases in Winnipeg and when the airline's employees agents were telling the court Gabor Lukacs was yelling at us, I pulled the recording and the judge found that they were not speaking the truth."

Math professor by day, activist by night

Lukacs is a math professor by profession and runs the Facebook group Air Passenger Rights as a public service after he had one too many run-ins with terrible airline service. 

The Halifax man has also had airlines call the police on him, so he was not surprised to learn the Air Canada official in Halifax did the same thing when faced with stranded passengers. 

"This is just wrong. [The job of] police is to deal with illegal activities," Lukacs said. "Those passengers did nothing wrong. They were just tired, stranded, polite and peaceful. So why call the police on them?"

He pointed out that the passengers had a right to be upset, as they were stuck in Halifax because the Air Canada flight left without them.

He said the "no-fly list" threat made by the same Air Canada employee was exaggerated. "He has no power to prevent someone from flying within Canada. It's a government list," he said. "Although some people unfortunately have ended up on Air Canada's no-fly list just because they had some dispute with the crew."

Air Canada should take responsibility

He said the no-fly lists should be used for people who smoke in the airplane toilet or harass passengers or crew, not travellers just trying to get home. Airlines should have clear guidelines for when employees should call police, he said. 

CBC News asked Air Canada if they had such a policy, and if the Halifax official was using it correctly when he called the police to deal with the peaceful passengers. Air Canada refused to answer either question. 

"We should be pointing the finger at the corporation that puts him in that situation," he said. 

He said airlines can help by better training employees and giving them tools to properly handle situations.