Air Canada…I give up

I fly fairly regularly – not enough for the perks of super-elite status, but enough to be bumped around through the maze of disappointing service that is Air Canada.

Sometimes I’m surprised by a staff member who is helpful or friendly. Mostly it’s a mildly irritating experience at best.

However, I’m tired of complaining about the airline as they don’t listen or seem to care. So, this will be my final gripe. After that, I’m resigned to accept that lacklustre service is part of the brand.

But…on a recent visit to California, a couple of small things stood out as further examples of AC’s failure to communicate.

The first happened at the Toronto airport when the airline ‘changed equipment’, we discovered we’d lost our seats and, like many others, were no longer guaranteed a place on the flight.  I pleaded for clemency as I was part of a wedding party and would have missed the ceremony if they didn’t let us on.  In the end, a kind young man stepped forward and offered his seat. But much of the angst might have been avoided with a quick email informing passengers of the situation, the potential SNAFU and our options – we know they have our email address.

On the way home we were on-board and ordered snacks. The menu advertised a 10 per cent discount on purchases over $10 in June and July. However, when I got my receipt, it was for the full amount. Now, we’re not talking a lot of money here, but when I mentioned this to the flight attendant, he said  the machines must have been reprogrammed and wouldn’t allow the discount or a refund, but he could make up the difference in snacks.

This seems like a case where the AC bean-counters turned a  promise into something as worthless as a ‘hill of beans’ (that you could probably buy from them for $3).

A little later, the FA said AC almost never informs staff when equipment is changed and they only find out when passengers grumble. Here’s a thought: how about spending a little more effort communicating with flight attendants and front-line reps; empowering them with information that they, in turn, could share with the passengers.  Pretty basic stuff.

I’m just glad to hear Virgin Airlines is now flying out of Toronto. Thanks to Klout, I get a chance to sample the service later in the month. From what I’ve heard, this will be a welcome change. I can’t wait.


Air Canada takes credit

Credit cards, that is.

On a morning flight to Winnipeg, I was anticipating my delicious Harvey’s ham and egg breakfast sandwich. But when I handed $5 to the flight attendant, she informed me that Air Canada no longer accepts cash for snacks, beverages or anything purchased on flights.

They don’t take debit cards either.

The transition happened May 1.  But I was as surprised to hear about it as the woman seated next to me.

One flight attendant explained that FAs often had a lot of cash at layovers, which would sometimes be stolen. And they were responsible.

So this was AC’s attempt at a fix. But do you think the airline could have come up with something a little more customer-focused: say a portable terminal on airplanes to keep track of sales and a place store the cash which could be picked up and deposited when the airline landed? Takes the burden away from FAs and might be a better way to manage sales and inventory.

I asked the FA what happened to kids or teenagers traveling alone who didn’t have a card. Would they not be able to have anything to eat?  She hesitated and said they sometimes gave them food for free.  But what about people who don’t have credit cards? There was no answer to that.

I talked to another FA who said the airline had been informing people when they purchased tickets, but admitted her Mom, a travel agent, didn’t realize this was happening until two weeks ago.  She also said that people were ringing up $3 charges for headphones; $5 for snacks, etc. and the FAs didn’t have a way of keeping a tab open (or letting people take advantage of the 10 per cent discount for $10 or more).  Some FAs were using their own credit cards and then taking cash from patrons.  She didn’t like the change at all.

To be fair to the airline, I checked my e-ticket and there was a mention of the need for credit cards, but it wasn’t called out.  On the AC homepage, it’s simply one of the news items and not highlighted at all.

Yet for even a wrong-headed move like this, if our national carrier believed this was the right thing to do, they should have conducted a more open public information program via advertising, communications to travel agents, front lines, online, PR, social networks. You know, spread the word. But they probably didn’t want to deal with the opposition – and what are you going to do when you’re on the flight?

Trust Air Canada to find a new way to diminish customer service.  We can only hope one of these days Dave Carroll is hungry or thirsty and doesn’t carry a credit card.

Clearing the Air (Canada)

Last summer, I posted about my first experience with the new Air Canada electronic boarding pass (eBP) that was sent directly to my BB. At the time, it wasn’t that well recognized by airport security and was difficult to scan. I reverted to printing it the old fashioned way.

So I was a little taken aback when, two weeks ago, I got a message from Darcy Noonan, who works for AC as a ‘customer service platform manager, ecommerce’. He said he’d read my blog and, though it was published in the summer, wanted to talk about my concerns. He followed up with an email, too.

When we connected, he was pleasant, well-informed and listened to what I had to say. He told me the airline was trying to educate the front lines on the new processes but it was more difficult than they’d planned. They were, however, committed to making it work and rolling it out across the country. He also mentioned that if I had any other issues, he hoped I would contact him.

I hung up the phone feeling pleasantly surprised. Here was Air Canada, not generally known for its stellar service and yet I’d just had an experience that made me think positively about the company.

From a social media perspective, I think the fact that they’re trying to listen to and engage customers is a good beginning.

However, IMHO I think they might want to add additional functionality to their regular online experience, here. I may be lucky enough to have a direct number, but it’s difficult to get through on the toll free lines. Perhaps AC could include a two-way platform so customers could reach them in real time (especially important mid-travel). An active eBP Twitter stream would be helpful too. That’s my two cents.

Still, this take-off seems to be heading in the right direction.

Thanks for following up, Darcy. I wanted to let you know that I going to give the eBP another chance.

Air Canada redefines Canadian map

Air Canada sent an email promoting their Canada East-West flight passes that piqued my interest. So I checked out the Eastern and Western offers and was proud to see that Manitoba (my home province) was included in both.

However, my glee was short-lived. When I tried the East-West flight pass, Manitoba had mysteriously dropped off the map (leaving only a shadow of its former self). In a related note, the Maritimes were dropped from that offer, too.

So what gives? Is Air Canada trying to say something about which provinces are wanted on the voyage and which are not?

I’d say it’s yet another example of our national airline not thinking about the consumer and missing the mark.

Brace yourself, if you want to see this in action, you have to go through a typical AC maze-like experience. You need to click here, scroll down to the site map, scroll all the way down there to search, type in flight pass, click on the first hit, then click on North America Pass. Typical AC, you can’t get there from here syndrome… (It was easier to click in the email link.)