Over the holidays, I was one of 300 Toronto-bound, Air Canada passengers who were kept on the tarmac for 12 hours with no food or water. 24 hours from gate to gate. Despite Canada's Airline Passenger Bill of Rights, it's difficult to comprehend why Air Canada - the official carrier for the Vancouver 2010 Olympic and Paralympic Games, could treat paying passengers in this manner.
In fact, the Consumer Association of Canada received so many complaints about Air Canada's handling of passengers, that it has requested a meeting with the federal transport minister next week.
Admittedly, Vancouver was pummeled by a chain of heavy snowstorms that led to hundreds of cancelled flights. While Air Canada's management maintained that delays were weather-related, it was evident that our delay was the result of poor management, personnel issues and according to our pilot, "excess fuel."
During the busiest travel period, Air Canada was operating with minimal staff and not allowing overtime. Our pilot simply walked off the plane telling us that Air Canada wouldn't allow him to work overtime. While safety issues are understandable, holding 300 passengers "captive" on a stifling plane until the next shift started is unacceptable. Air Canada's own policy dictates that after an eight-hour delay, passengers are entitled to a meal voucher and hotel accommodation. Guess it was cheaper to keep us on the plane.
At one point, one of the ground crew tried to de-ice our plane using a piece of cardboard. I heard later that Air Canada had not ordered extra de-icing fluid and was operating with "skeletal" staff. Meanwhile, West Jet was operating close to a normal schedule and weary passengers were even offered free pizza and drinks.
When we finally landed in Toronto, Air Canada offered each passenger a $500 voucher. Considering that this offer probably cost Air Canada over $150,000, wouldn't it have been cheaper to have had the pilot fly as scheduled?
This incident brings up many questions about Air Canada's preparedness and communication when it comes to the 2010 Games. If the airline can't book enough staff to cover a snowstorm and holiday travel, how will it handle the over 5,000 flights expected to land in Vancouver during the games?
While our plane sat on the tarmac in Vancouver, Air Canada's Customer Service was telling travellers that our plane had already landed in Toronto.
The arrivals lounge at YVR became a sea of lost luggage. Anyone could walk in and take a bag that didn't belong to them. This raises concerns about security measures and the airport's readiness for the influx of visitors coming for the 2010 Olympics.
With over a year to go before the "Five Ring Circus" comes to town, questions about host city Vancouver's transportation problems are already hanging in the air. But authorities claimed that they will learn from the recent travel fiascos to improve air travel in time for 2010.
The Vancouver Airport Authority claims that extra pieces of snow-clearing equipment have been ordered for 2010 and they are reviewing how they move people in and out.
No one knows what Mother Nature has in mind for February 2010, but hopefully these incidents will serve as a wake-up call. Air Canada could start by learning how to treat its customers decently.
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