May 14 2013 by Ellen Roseman
I don’t have any complaints about the service on Air Canada flights. But I find the airline often falls short in trying to resolve problems that crop up after a flight.
Years ago, my mother and I waited more than two hours to get our baggage after a one-hour flight from Montreal to Toronto. The aircraft had gone back to the hangar by mistake with many suitcases still on board.
When we complained about the extra cost of parking for my husband who was picking us up, we were told to write a letter to Montreal. This was a nuisance. Why couldn’t Air Canada just hand out $5 or $10 gift cards to us on the spot?
I went to the trouble of writing to Montreal, but still didn’t get any compensation for the error. Then, I complained to the airline’s media contact, resulting in flowers for my mother and Aeroplan points for me.
Air Canada still acts like a monopoly — smug, slow to respond and aiming for customer satisfaction rather than delight. It can afford to live with criticism, since it has locked up many long-haul routes that its domestic rivals can’t offer.
While most companies answer emails within days. Air Canada promises to respond within three to five weeks.
Lost baggage complaints are handled by a call centre in India, which isn’t popular with Canadian customers. Check out Sylvia Duckworth’s lament about her missing laptop at her blog.
After writing columns about Air Canada, I started hearing from readers. Kay-Anne, for example, was upset not to get an apology for poor service when flying home from Antarctica, with a stop in Chile.
“Each time, any response from them came in an envelope with a return address from their head office for customer service in Calgary,” she said.
“My husband and I were so displeased with the lack of satisfaction that when we were next in Calgary, visiting our son, we went to the address listed on the correspondence. We hoped to speak to an actual person, who might at least acknowledge that the company had failed our small group miserably.
“We had great difficulty finding the address and drove by where it should have been several times. Finally, I went into the pharmacy, which seemed to be at the correct address and asked where Air Canada’s customer service office was.
“The lady sheepishly told me I was at the right place. Air Canada Customer Service is a post office box number in a Shopper’s Drug Mart in Calgary.
“You can interpret from our experience and those of others you have written about that Air Canada, in fact, provides no support to customers with genuine concerns.”
WestJet has built its business on showing special care to its “guests.” (No one refers to them as customers.) I rarely get any WestJet complaints and when I do, I find they’re resolved in an instant.
Porter Airlines tries to excel by offering free snacks and cappuccino at its Toronto Island terminal and free wine on board. Passengers feel pampered finding leather seats throughout the plane, not just in . executive class.
Air Canada needs to respond to complaints more quickly. It needs to value its customers’ energy and time spent straightening out messes. It needs to appoint an ombudsman (a position that once existed and was wiped out) to do independent reviews of disputes.
This large airline is protected from domestic competition on many routes. Let’s put pressure on it to choose excellence, rather than mediocrity, in helping customers with their problems.