Q: I’m hoping you can help me. Last November, my husband and I purchased round-trip tickets on Air Canada from Washington, D.C., to Tel Aviv, Israel, to visit our family for this Passover holiday.
Unfortunately, my daughter – who lives in Israel – was hit by a car, and I have to fly there immediately to take care of her when she gets out of the hospital. After spending more than two hours on hold with Air Canada, the airline told me that it would cost me over $2,000 to change my ticket, so I hung up and purchased a one-way ticket to leave the next week. It happens to be on Air Canada, since that was the best ticket I could find.
Now friends and colleagues are telling me that if I don’t show up for my originally scheduled flight, I won’t be able to return from Tel Aviv. I’m asking for your help in trying to find the best way to make sure I have a smooth flight over without having to worry about returning. Needless to say, I’m tremendously stressed about my daughter and her injuries, and would rather not have to worry about the greedy airlines.
Reena Roshgadol, Pikesville, Maryland
A: Your friends are right. If you don’t show up for your flight to Tel Aviv, Air Canada will cancel your entire itinerary.
Air Canada is both right and wrong to do this. It’s right in the sense that this is a standard airline practice and that it makes sense on one level. If you miss your outbound flight, canceling the rest of your itinerary frees up a seat for another passenger.
But it’s wrong to charge a $2,000 change fee, given your circumstances. Why does Air Canada do this? Because it figures that ticket changes such as this are likely to be made by business travelers, who are on an expense account. And also, because it can.
You were trying to get around Air Canada’s change fee by buying a new ticket, which makes sense until you understand how the system works. The airline really wants you to pay a change fee.
When you explained your circumstances to Air Canada, it should have waived some or all of its fees as a goodwill gesture. The airline shouldn’t want to collect a hefty change fee from someone who is just trying to take care of an injured daughter. You even sent pictures of your child in the emergency room, which were pretty compelling. I have no idea why the airline didn’t help you.
You also could have contacted one of the airline’s executives. I list the names, numbers and emails of Air Canada’s customer-service managers on my consumer-advocacy site: http://elliott.org/company-contacts/air-canada/.
I contacted Air Canada on your behalf, and it agreed to refund your one-way ticket, and charged a modest $460 to change your return flight – a resolution with which you are happy.
Christopher Elliott is the ombudsman for National Geographic Traveler magazine and the author of ”How to Be the World’s Smartest Traveler.” You can read more travel tips on his blog, elliott.org, or email him at email@example.com.