September 25, 2006

An open letter to anyone who cares. And Air Canada.

This letter was published in the Whitehorse Daily Star on Friday, September 22. Please feel free to share it with all your friends and your local media and your friends in your local media. A post-script follows.

An open letter to anyone who cares. And Air Canada.
I live in Whitehorse, just a few thousand kilometres away from the rest of my family. We don't get to visit very often, which is why I was overjoyed when I learned that my Granny and Pop (grandparents) were coming to visit my wife, our 7 ½ month-old daughter, and me, for two weeks.

Unfortunately, halfway through their visit, my Granny had what we initially thought was a "mini-stroke".

My Granny is the kind of woman who lights up a room with her pyrotechnic charm. She makes friends with everyone within seconds of meeting them. She's the type of person who cares so much about people that she was more concerned with the "poor doctor" she was "bothering" than she was about herself.

After spending the rest of the day in the hospital and half of the next, the doctor informed us that an aggressive brain tumour had caused the attack. He prescribed the appropriate medications and advised that my Granny fly home immediately for specialized medical care, medical care that is unavailable in the Yukon. Because of the nature of the tumour, he suggested that my family enjoy the remaining time they have with her.

There were two Air Canada flights out of Whitehorse the next day, the airline they flew in with. Because they were travelling to the Toronto area and it would be too much of a strain on them, the evening flight was not an option. I needed to get my grandparents on the morning flight so they could fly through to Toronto in one day, but was informed by the booking agent on the telephone that the flight was full. Since I live near the airport, I decided to go to the booking desk to see if there was anything they might be able to do to help.

I explained the situation and was informed by the Air Canada agent that, "because you've disclosed this to us, we can't let her fly until she's received medical clearance."

I informed her that it was our doctor who told us to get her on the next flight home.

"No," she informed me, "she'll need medical clearance from our doctor."

I tried to explain the condition some more, but the agent said, "Because you've told me that, I'll need to record that also.

Look," she went on, "if I let her on the flight without this clearance and something happens, you would be the first to sue. I could lose my job."

I was shocked that this woman had the gall to assume that I would sue if something happened, but was more shocked that this uncaring woman was more concerned with her job than she was with the health and safety of another individual.

And I said so, to which she exclaimed that she was offended.

Upon latter reflection I failed to mention that I would understand if something happened on the flight ? but that I would sue if she didn't get on the flight, her only means to get to the medical care she needs.

The agent beside her gave me a phone number for Air Canada's medical centre, so instead of spending some quality time with my Granny ? likely the last time I would get the chance to spend with her again ? I spent the rest of the day trying to get Air Canada?s paperwork filled out.

Because the Air Canada medical centre was closed before receiving the documents they requested from the doctor, I was up at 4:45 in the morning (the centre opens at 8:00 EST) to ensure that things had gone through.

They hadn't, but to her credit, the woman at the medical centre tried to get a doctor to review the documents right away.

The flight was at 6:55 and I still didn't have the tickets.

The woman from the medical centre, while she waited for a doctor, called me back and told me to try and book the flight.

I told her that they wouldn't let me without the clearance letter.

She told me to try anyways, so I did.

Again, there was "nothing that can be done" to switch the tickets to the morning flight so, in desperation, we decided to switch their tickets to the evening flight and to try upgrade their tickets on the Vancouver-Toronto leg to executive class so they could be more comfortable on the trip home. Then the agent informed me that the upgrade fees would $1,500. Each. For the Vancouver-Toronto leg only. This was in addition to what they already spent for their tickets. Choking back my disbelief, I told the agent to "have a pleasant day" though there were several other words I wanted to express, and hung up the phone.

And this was my experience with Air Canada, the company that seems to care more about covering its own butt than it does about its passengers.

We eventually got the clearance, but by then it was too late. I had already booked them passage with Air North and WestJet, both of which provided exceptional assistance to my grandparents and treated them like royalty. Of course, we still need to cancel my grandparent?s original Air Canada tickets and I fully expect them to charge their cancellation fees, or even better, to give my grandparents a "credit for a future flight."

And I have to agree with my Granny when, with her unfailing wit, she exclaimed, "Well, I'll never fly with Air Canada again!"

I sent this letter to Air Canada. If I receive a response, I should receive it by October 3rd. ("You should expect a response from us within 10 business days.") My uncle tried to get my grandparents' tickets refunded. The best he could get was a credit for a future flight, good until one year after the date of purchase.

The medical and support staff Whitehorse General Hospital were fantastic, both diagnosing and helping us deal with this. I can imagine it's not easy news to give. Then, when Air Canada wanted their paperwork done, Dr. Tadepalli was there, on his time off, to see that it got done.

The day after she got home, my Granny saw her doctor. The day after that, she was seen by an oncologist. Whether it's because of the medication, the stress, or the tumour, she has started shaking. Who knows how things would have progressed if she had been stuck in Whitehorse?

My Granny goes in for surgery tomorrow. We have no idea how it will turn out, but at least they're trying to do something. Unlike Air Canada.


Drakadooey said...


I wish your Granny the best of luck with her surgery and hope all turns out well. That is terrible how Air Canada has treated your family. I commend you for taking the time have the Whitehorse Daily Star publish your letter to Air Canada for their selfish tactics in a very sensitive and life-threatening situation.

take care.

ExploreNorth said...

I'm so sorry to read about your grandmother. Air Canada has always abused Northerners, and this is a particularly appalling example of their arrogance and ignorance. If ever a company deserved bankruptcy, they're it. I always fly Air North for the first and last leg out of the Yukon and back home, and consciously avoid Air Canada for every other leg because of their history here.

Anonymous said...


I call it the ?me first? society, where moral values are being replaced by rules and regulations, and the fear for ?losing my bowl of soup? blocks the compassion and converts human beings to little screws of a big bureaucratic machine.


Andrew Stark said...

Wow! I guess it's best not to mention illnesses to Air Canada. I had no idea.

I hope and pray the best for your granny. May the surgery go well.

dogsled_stacie said...

Wow, that is unbelievable. And what the heck kind of policy is that?? A DOCTOR says she has to get to where she can receive medical help right away, yet Air Canada doesn't quite buy it? The whole thing just stinks.

So sorry you guys had to go through all that stress and worry, plus the added stress Air Canada put you through. Hope your Granny is coming through the surgery with flying colours - and from what you've said Michael, she sounds like the kind of spunky lady who will do just that! :)

Lara said...

What can I say??? As a former employee of Air Canada, I apologize profusely for what you went through. I really, really, really feel for you.

Good for you for getting your letter published. Hopefully that will make them take notice.

Now, I am not in any way defending AC, but I will share a few things I've learned:

1) They only accept written complaints through the "Customer Solutions" dept for a few good reasons that I could understand once they were explained to me... I can share another time

2)They actually do get back to you, and although 10 business days seems extremely long right now, I've heard back as early as 5 after I wrote. And each time, I got a polite, respectful, apologetic email, and a solution to my problem.

So! I hope you get some resolution that your grandparents are satisfied with, at the *very* least, even though it can't make up for what you went through...

On a brighter note, I'll be thinking of your spunky granny and wishing her all the best. Like Stacie said, she sounds like a super-trooper!