Help! Air Canada ruined our trip to Ireland but will not take responsibility.

Last September, my husband and I left our children with their grandparents and went to Ireland. Our $2,132 itinerary took us from Minneapolis to Toronto to Dublin with tickets booked on United Airlines through Expedia, but ultimately operated by Air Canada, a United partner. We had boarded our connecting flight in Toronto (and I was already dozing in my seat) when the captain announced that an operator had crashed the jet bridge into the starboard engine. We were given hotel vouchers and told we would be booked in for the next day. The departure time came and went without a word, so we went to the airport and were told to call Air Canada customer service. An agent booked us a flight for that evening and we printed our boarding passes at an airport kiosk. But when we tried to board, we were told that the boarding passes were not valid. Ultimately, we were given two options for the next day: take a flight to Dublin via Newark or return to Minneapolis. We cut our losses and returned home after spending the night in Toronto in a hotel. But United only refunded us $1,087, barely half of what we paid. Air Canada reimbursed us for the second hotel and other expenses, but we believe the airlines owe us not only a full refund, but also 400 Canadian dollars ($295 each) under Canadian law for denied boarding . Both refused. Can you help ? Michelle, Edina, Minnesota.

I found the 58 page brief you sent with your story to be quite compelling. (This also convinced me that either you or your husband is a lawyer, which turns out to be true.)

I ignored Expedia, since your trip had already started, and contacted United and Air Canada — since you flew with an airline partner, this is a codeshare agreement. A United spokeswoman, Erin Jankowski, quickly sent me a statement saying the refund you received from United was in accordance with Air Canada's instructions and referred all further questions to her.

Air Canada, on the other hand, took almost two weeks to respond to me, and its response was disappointing.

“Our records indicate that these customers were not denied boarding in Toronto,” wrote Peter Fitzpatrick, a spokesperson for the airline. “Instead, it appears that following the cancellation of their original flight to Ireland, they chose to return to Minneapolis from Toronto rather than travel to Dublin following the delay. Once this was identified, we rebooked the customers on a return flight to Minneapolis.

No compensation, no word on the $1,045 still missing from your refund, and no explanation as to how you were turned away at the gate of your second flight and yet “not denied boarding” .

Air Canada offered you and your husband a credit worth C$1,200 toward an upcoming flight, Mr. Fitzpatrick wrote to me, “to account for the impact on their plans and their travel experience.

There was no response to my direct question asking why your boarding passes didn't work the second night. In fact, it is not even clear from Mr. Fitzpatrick's initial statement that Air Canada believed you had even attempted to board, despite the boarding passes you included in the file sent to me as well as the two airlines.

I responded with more pointed questions, thanks to what I learned after reading the Canadian Transportation Agency report Air Passenger Protection Regulations and speak with Tom Oommen, executive director of CTA's Analytics and Outreach Directorate.

“We have what I would call a very comprehensive holistic consumer protection system for airlines,” he said. For example, when flight disruptions occur for reasons beyond the control of an airline and the airline cannot board passengers on another of its own flights within nine hours, it must rebook the passenger on any airline, including competitors with which it does not have agreements, a requirement that the United States does not impose.

Mr. Oommen also noted that if a passenger is stranded halfway through a trip and is unhappy with the options to continue, the airline should offer to rebook that passenger “on a return flight to their point of origin free of charge and reimburse their entire ticket.

He wouldn't comment specifically on your case, but that's exactly what happened to you. (The only exception to these rules is when the disruption is not under the airline's control, Mr. Oommen said, but when a mechanical problem is caused by an airline employee or contractor, “it is difficult to make this argument.)

There are also many circumstances in which Canada requires airlines to compensate passengers — between $400 and $2,400 — for flight delays, cancellations and denied boarding under the airline's control. There is an exception when such issues have safety implications, which might apply to engine damage on the first night, but not, it seems to me, to non-functional boarding passes on the second night. This sounds a lot like being denied boarding.

This time, you received a response before me and forwarded me several emails from Air Canada, including one indicating that the carrier had approved a cash payment of $400 per traveler. Then Mr. Fitzpatrick emailed me to let me know you would receive a full refund.

So you got what you asked for, but of course you would have preferred to go to Ireland. And what exactly happened when Air Canada refused to fly you to Toronto? Mr. Fitzpatrick told me United canceled your ticket before you even got to the gate.

I found this confusing: the boarding pass has an Air Canada ticket number on it, and you hadn't even spoken to United that day. So I contacted United's Ms. Jankowski again, who looked into the situation in more detail and discovered that “United had canceled the tickets after sending messages to the operating carrier, Air Canada, informing them that the tickets were not valid.” had not been correctly retransmitted to the rescheduled carrier. flight.”

Apparently, somewhere deep in the interface of the two carriers' systems, your Air Canada boarding pass has been invalidated by United, and neither airline has contacted you. And that's a shame, because Mr Fitzpatrick later confirmed the second flight left with empty seats.

When you decided to go home, the Air Canada representative at the airport told you that you needed to call United. The process of untangling the mess and booking you a flight back to Minneapolis took hours and six different United customer service representatives and supervisors.

Your experience is a good reason for all of us to avoid code sharing unless it is necessary, such as when an itinerary includes flights operated by different airlines.

All because you originally booked flights with Air Canada as a United codeshare – a choice you found on Expedia. When I recently searched from Minneapolis to Dublin on Expedia for a week in April, the first two choices that came up were the same itinerary via Toronto with no price difference, one booked directly on Air Canada and the other in code sharing on Uni. Assuming you saw the same thing last year, I bet if you had booked Air Canada's choice you would have arrived in Ireland even a day late. All the more reason to book directly, with a single airline.

One final mystery remains: why did Air Canada not admit that this was a case of denied boarding and follow the required CTA regulations? Yes, your case does not match exactly the official definition of agencywhich is written to describe overbooking or changing planes, but if an airline mistakenly cancels a passenger's ticket after you have already printed a boarding pass and you are stopped at the gate, what 'is it ?

I presented this as a theoretical situation to Mr. Oommen from CTA

“Classic denied boarding is what you describe,” he said.

This means you could charge an additional $400 each for this second incident, and use that amount for a new flight to Ireland – for example on Aer Lingus, direct or via Chicago.

If you need advice on an optimal travel plan gone wrong, email

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