Rats on a plane and other scary stories

April 3 2010 by Ellen Roseman

Air Canada isn’t known for great customer service, but this is one of the strangest complaints I’ve seen (below). A passenger flying from Toronto to Heathrow saw a rat running overhead in a ceiling crevice. Not pleased with the airline’s half-hearted apology, she’s taking her business to WestJet.

Have any others seen rodents on board? They’re a common feature of Toronto restaurant kitchens, as the city’s food safety tests have shown.

Here’s news. I hope to make a presentation at public hearings for the federal task force on financial literacy, which is coming to Toronto on April 19.

I’m still figuring out what I want to say, beyond what I said here when the task force membership was announced. But I do want to focus on being a smart consumer. I agree with author David Bach, when he says:

Never before have corporations been so successful in taking us financially without our really realizing it.

The task force’s consultation document talks about protecting against fraud, but that’s just part of the story. What about all the unfair practices you see in your everyday dealings with large corporations?

Unless you complain and fight back, you will spend more money than you need to and have less left over for yourself. Just read this blog to see how often people are separated from their savings by legitimate companies, paragons of Canadian business, not fly-by-night fraudsters.

Finally, I have a new course at the University of Toronto’s continuing studies, The Facts of Life about Your Finances. It’s six evenings, 12 hours, starting next week.

13 comments

  1. Laurie

    Apr 3 2010

    I recently traveled from Pearson to Heathrow on an Air Canada flight on Feb. 21st.

    Just as the lights dimmed for the passengers to get some rest on the 7 hour flight, my seatmate elbowed me to ask if I “had just seen that”.

    I took out my earphones and looked up to the ceiling where the aisle lights are recessed slightly. To my horror, a giant black rat was running up and down this crevice.

    The flight crew did notice it also and were trying to capture it with a box, but were unsuccessful.

    I am extremely frightened of any rodent and was absolutely petrified for the remainder of the flight. I even refused to put my feet down on the floor for fear of another rat scurrying across.

    I contacted Air Canada with my complaint, and then again after hearing that a flight to Heathrow from Ottawa was canceled because a passenger had found a rat in the overhead cabinet.

    The insulting response I received from Air Canada, in my opinion, is deplorable. Apparently, rats on board are a regular occurrence and what they consider to be an apology is insulting to a loyal customer.

    I am a corporate event planner and travel more than frequently for my career. I purposely choose Air Canada as my preferred air carrier and have achieved Elite status from my trips last year.

    I have continued to use them in 2010, even though other airlines have direct routes and are less expensive. My loyalty to Air Canada has not wavered. Until now of course.

    Air Canada basically told me that they try to keep rats off of their aircraft, but *shrug* it happens.

    Because of my unwavering loyalty and the fact that this experience has left me with nightmares and has affected my productivity, they have offered me a paltry 5% discount on my next travel purchase with Air Canada.

    On my $1,000 average airline ticket, this amount to a $50 discount. I also mentioned to them that I had changed my return flight to Lufthansa and paid the $150 change fee out of my own pocket after seeing the rat.

    In my 11 years as an event planner, I have never come across this type of inferior customer service. Not only did they email me 11 days after my original email (their policy is no more than 10 days), but when I told them I was no longer choosing them as my air carrier, they essentially said “go right ahead”.

    Westjet just announced a frequent flier program. I can’t wait to start using them instead of Air Canada, which has monopolized the Canadian air industry.

  2. Jane

    Apr 3 2010

    Dear Ellen, I was wondering if you could help me out.

    In December, I had to renew the licenses for our two cars. a 2007 Murano and a 1997 Volvo.

    The Ontario government sent me the renewal form with a red star beside the Murano, meaning I had to get an emissions test before I could renew the license.

    We took the car to Avenue Nissan, which in turn apparently took it to an emissions place that certified the car.

    When I went to the license office, I was told that the Murano was inadvertently marked wrong — it was the Volvo that needed the emissions test. So I had to go back and get the Volvo an emissions test.

    The license office told me to apply for a refund. I applied for a refund and was told I could not get my money back, because it was the government and not them that made the mistake. I had thought I was applying to the government, but apparently not.

    I was also told that I could re-apply in November. When I asked to speak to a supervisor to help me understand all of this, they said I would get a call back when they had time.

    I am at a standstill. I’m wondering if The Star can help. I don’t know who to call and I find it extraordinary that the license office isn’t given the proper information to pass onto the consumer.

    ————————————————————

    WOW Ellen, you are amazing!

    Just received a call from the Ministry of Transportation, telling me if I fax to them directly I will get my refund.

    How great are you. I’ve been given the runaround forever.
    Thank you so so much.

  3. Debra

    Apr 3 2010

    I dialed 411 today for a far-away phone number. The automated voice at the other end told me that the number had been found and that connection to that number was included in the cost.

    This is new. Normally, I’m offered the option of having Bell make the connection at an extra cost.

    I smelled a rat. Curious, I called the Bell operator (maybe also at a cost) to ask about the change.

    She explained that as of March, the cost of making a 411 call is $1.50 and this automatically includes connection.

    I asked her what the previous cost had been – she said that the information, alone, was $.50 (I think) and that with connection, $1.25.

    So not only has the cost of making a 411 call with connection increased by a full 20%, but you and I no longer have the option of saving a few cents and dialing the number ourselves.

    I can’t imagine how minute the cost of this service to Bell is, but I’m guessing they’re making money hand
    over fist on it.

    And while it is true that we can all now access this
    information via the internet free of charge (sort of), there are still those who don’t have access to same. Many elderly people still resist this technology, for instance.

    Another feature of this story is that one has no way of knowing how much a 411 call costs, short of
    contacting an operator to ask.

    I must confess that I have been blithely using it for numbers outside of my area code, assuming the cost to be minimal or even free since Bell knows I wouldn’t have
    access to a telephone directory for that area. Silly me.

    Hope you’re interested in shining a light on this. People should know.

  4. Edward

    Apr 3 2010

    Today, we received a visit from two Toronto Hydro executives. They came with the good news that they were able to identify the problem with our billing and have made the appropriate corrections.

    It seems that the “smart meter” installed at our home was previously installed elsewhere. And instead of starting at zero kilowatt hours (kWh), it had some 12,000 kWh already on it.

    There is nothing wrong with the meter, but the previous 12,000 kWh was charged to our account through a billing error. This threw the whole accounting procedure out of whack.

    Both men agreed that the error should have been caught earlier. Certainly when we questioned it, it should have been escalated to them.

    Along with the news about the smart meter, I was advised that once the tallying and corrections had been done, we had a credit of $293.41.

    On top of that, the gentlemen agreed to compensate us for the inconvenience with $110.25 of free customer charges.

    Thank you once again Ellen for all that you have done to help us. We will be making a $100 donation to the Star’s Fresh Air Fund in your name in appreciation.

  5. John K

    Apr 3 2010

    Just wanted to share an experience I had with the travel company, Expedia.

    We had booked travel to Florida through Expedia, and then were not able to go. Fortunately, we had another trip, to Peru, that had to be booked so I thought it would be easy to cancel Florida and use the balance, after penalty, for Peru. Both flights were on Air Canada.

    The convoluted story I received from Expedia, from both the agent and a supervisor I asked for, was infuriating, and potentially costly. They said, among other things:

    — What they were doing was dictated by Air Canada, as they were doing it on the airline’s booking system.

    — That when we changed flights to go to a different country, we forfeited some of the taxes from the first flight.

    She could not (would not?) tell me exact differences in taxes and the total charge until after she had run through my credit card (huge red flag).

    Eventually, I learned that the cost would be about $625.

    I was doubtful of what they told me, so called Air Canada to check on the fees and penalties for the change.

    The agent at Air Canada could not have been more helpful. Her name was Anna and she went “above and beyond.”

    She contradicted what I had been told by Expedia (who supposedly was just relaying what was on the AC system), and gave me the true costs, about $460.

    When I told her what had been said about more taxes and forfeited taxes, she said that was impossible and offered to call Expedia to see what was going on. She did.

    She came back to me, frustrated and saying they claimed their system was not able to do refunds, or refund taxes, or some such lame excuse.

    At my pleading, she managed to take over the file and change flights with the correct charges.

    Expedia’s incompetence, or worse their system design to improperly inflate charges, would have increased the cost to me by over 35%.

    If people just accept Expedia’s explanations, they will likely be overcharged.

    I can’t say if the problem was incompetence at the front lines or built-in dishonesty in how their system calculates charges. In any case it was unpleasant, time-wasting, and Expedia should be exposed for its manner of doing business.

    ————————————————————

    Noor Marzook, Expedia.ca spokeswoman:

    Expedia.ca has reviewed John’s case in detail and I wanted to provide you with an update.

    Unfortunately, John’s situation was due to agent error and miscommunication on the agent’s part.

    As you know, Expedia is a facilitator in the purchase of airline tickets. The consumer’s money goes directly to the airline, without Expedia ever touching it.

    Therefore, the Expedia.ca agent who spoke to John was in the wrong telling him that he would forfeit some of the taxes from his first flight.

    Expedia has taken corrective steps to eliminate this type of agent error in the future.

    As you know, Expedia.ca takes customer complaints very seriously and does everything they can to resolve cases to the customer’s satisfaction.

    Expedia.ca sympathizes with John for what he went through and although his issue has been resolved, Expedia.ca will be giving him a $200 good will voucher to go towards his next trip.

    As always, Ellen, thanks for bringing this to our attention.

  6. what?

    Apr 4 2010

    I know that many people in Canada talk about poor service on Air Canada, but they are actually a top rated, award winning airline, as judged by various organisations of frequent flyers.

    In any case, good luck with your next WestJet flight to Heathrow!

  7. The Rat

    Apr 4 2010

    Ironically enough, I also posted my own little rant on traveling, and most of the discussion surrounded my experiences in dealing with Air Canada.

    At any rate, the Air Canada story is one I’ve never heard of before. I never thought I’d hear of a rodent inside the plane. I saw the movie, “Snakes On A Plane” starring Samuel Jackson; I suppose this story adds a new element to it!

  8. Lior

    Apr 5 2010

    Rats on a plane are a regular occurrence? What would Health Canada say about it?

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