Ottawa

Air Canada's new booking system frustrating travellers

Getting through to Air Canada's new online booking system has become a kind of mission impossible for would-be travellers, just as peak travel season takes off.

Long delays, dropped calls 'temporary problems that can arise with technological changes,' airline says

Diana Bereck booked an anniversary trip to Dubai and Singapore in January, but hasn't been able to get through to Air Canada to confirm flight changes. (CBC)

Getting through to Air Canada's new telephone flight booking system has become a kind of mission impossible for would-be travellers, just as peak travel season takes off.

"I've tried 127 times to call this number," said Diana Bereck, who's travelling to Dubai and Singapore with her husband in January to celebrate their 30th wedding anniversary. 

Air Canada first changed their departing flight, then their return flight, adding several hours and a stopover to their itinerary. Bereck was told to call the airline's customer service line at 1-888-247-2262 to confirm the changes.

But despite trying numerous times, day and night, Bereck has been unable to get through to a human.

"It just has a message that they've changed their phone system and they can't put calls on hold, to try again later," she said. "It's frustrating."

Other customers have reported waiting on hold for hours, only to have the called dropped.

When CBC tried the number, we heard this recorded message: "Air Canada has recently introduced a new reservation system and 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 suggests passengers call only within 24 hours of their flight "in order to allow us to manage calls efficiently and assist customers already in transit."

A different message informs callers it will take a minimum of one hour to speak with an agent. 

Agents facing 'learning curve'

According to Air Canada, since launching the new reservation system Nov. 19, call volume has been higher than usual, and wait times have been longer.

"By way of background, this has been a massive, two-year project involving 700,000 hours of development time including substantial guidance from IT and global airline reservation system experts," wrote airline spokesperson Peter Fitzpatrick in an email.

Fitzpatrick said there have been technical issues "in some cases," resulting in longer waits "as our agents are on a learning curve to use the new system."

Transport Canada says it's following the situation closely, and the minister's office is in contact with Air Canada.

Starting next Monday, passengers will be able to file complaints about poor customer service under the latest version of Canada's new air passenger protection regulations, but only if they've been unduly inconvenienced by a flight delay or cancellation.

The Canadian Transportation Agency suggests other customer service complaints should be directed to provincial consumer protection agencies.

Diana and Kevin Bereck have spent months planning a 30th anniversary trip. But after Air Canada changed their itinerary, adding new layovers and flights, the couple says they've had no luck getting an agent on the phone.  0:59

With files from Yasmine Mehdi and Roxane Léouzon.

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