As many people look to take their first trips in more than a year, returning demand for air travel is pushing up low pandemic prices.
But one customer who booked early in hopes of getting ahead of the price hikes told CityNews she feels like she is now being punished.
In early June, Stephanie Richards booked flights to Nashville for her and her partner. Though the trip would be in October, she liked the prices she was seeing for round-trip airfare.
“We decided to take advantage of the cost of flights at that time,” Richards explained.
Through Expedia, she booked two seats on three-hour direct flights operated by Air Canada for just over $760, taxes and fees included.
Since booking, Richards has received several messages from Expedia saying her nonstop flight has been changed by Air Canada to two or more flights. At one point, she was told she would be rebooked on a 10-hour journey with multiple connections each way.
CityNews looked for Richards’ original departure and return flights on Air Canada’s website and it appears neither exists.
Richards said she’s frustrated that she’s not being booked on a comparable flight. With the latest round of changes, she called both Expedia and Air Canada, waiting on hold for hours, only to get contradictory explanations for what was happening with her tickets.
“Expedia said they had no control over what the flights are, that’s Air Canada’s job…which I understand that it’s not Expedia’s job, but at the end of the day I’m their customer,” she said. “When I go to Air Canada and I say, ‘there’s a flight that’s flying for four hours, why can’t I be on that one?’ They say, ‘well Expedia needs to put you on that one, they can.’ And Expedia says, ‘no we can’t.’”
‘The law is absolutely clear’
Air-passenger rights advocate Gabor Lukacs told CityNews Air Canada must transport a passenger to their destination as quickly as possible.
“The law is absolutely clear; it is the airline’s responsibility to put her on that flight,” he said.
“It doesn’t matter how you book your flight,” he explained. “A passenger’s contract is with Air Canada. Air Canada is the air carrier, they operate the flight, they have to fix this problem that their cancellation created.”
He said although there is no obligation under Canada’s Airline Passenger Protection Regulations to rebook Richards on a direct flight, she cannot be charged extra fees. But Richards said Expedia told her, if a direct flight were to become available again from Air Canada, she would have to pay the difference in cost from the original tickets.
“Expedia should be advocating for her,” said Lukacs. “Unfortunately, that’s not happening.”
According to Lukacs, there are two things Richards can do: “Either insist on being rebooked on flights of other airlines or the passenger can opt to get a full refund.”
Even if Richards opts for a refund — which she said she hasn’t been offered — the price for two tickets to Nashville is now more expensive and she’d still be on the hook to pay the difference.
“It’s killing me to want to cancel because of the price difference right now for flights. I’m a proactive person, I like to take advantage of deals when I see them.”
Currently Richards has been re-booked again, this time on a flight with one stop in Chicago. She’s been told there’s no guarantee the flight won’t change again.
“We have the law, which is perfectly clear, yet we have airlines and other companies that completely disregard the law and even lying in the face of the passenger about their rights,” said Lukacs, who believes the regulatory bodies entrusted to govern the industry are advancing private interests.
‘They should not have to pay more’
Expedia told CityNews they are looking into Richards’ situation, but it may take a few days to review her specific case.
However, a spokesperson for the company said as a rule, Expedia does not cancel flights — any changes are done by the airline and Expedia is notified.
“Airlines do cancel flights and appear to be more frequent these days as they change schedules to meet demand. Typically, schedules are firmed up a couple months in advance; however, we have seen more schedule changes closer to the departure date in comparison to previous years,” they said.
When it comes to paying more, Expedia says price fluctuations are common across the travel industry, but the original price is always honoured.
In Richards’ case, which is still under review, they said there appears to be a major schedule change.
“When this occurs, the traveller is entitled to fly the new schedule or receive a refund, they should not have to pay more,” they said.
Air Canada told CityNews in a statement, if a flight is cancelled for any reason and the customer is not rebooked on another flight departing within three hours of their original flight time, they can request a refund or voucher.
The airline declined an interview request on Richards’ specific case.
UPDATE: Since CityNews’ story aired, Richards says Air Canada has apologized for not being more helpful and has officially taken over her case to keep her on the shortest flight path possible.