A former Air Canada employee told CBC News this week that he and his colleagues were trained to routinely mislead passengers who were likely to be involuntarily denied boarding on overbooked flights. The airline countered that the company’s policies regarding overbooked flights and involuntarily bumped passengers are in line with accepted industry standards.
Anyone who has ever suspected that the airline employee on the other side of the counter might not be telling the whole story, likely won’t be surprised by headlines from Canada this week indicating that Air Canada ticket agents were trained to mislead passengers. At least two current and former airport workers say that they were instructed to mislead passengers to believe that they would allowed to board full flights – even in situations in which every seat on the plane had already been assigned to other passengers.
The two whistle blowers told CBC News this week that airline supervisors repeatedly ordered ticket agents to reassure passengers that seating assignments would be made at the gate, when in fact there were no seats available for those passengers. The allegations were made public this week.
“It’s never fun to have to lie to people,” one former Vancouver International Airport (YVR) customer service agent told the news service. “I had to tell people over and over again that they were gonna get on the plane, when I knew that they might not.”
One current Air Canada employee, who is said to be responsible for training new hires, backed up his former colleague’s account. The unnamed veteran Air Canada employee said the airline is “strict” about its policy that employees always mislead passengers about the chances of being permitted to board the overbooked flights.
“I say to the new hired agents, ‘You can’t put up with confrontation all day long. If someone has ‘GTE’ on their boarding pass, it means they don’t have a seat,” the employee confessed to reporters. “But if you explain that to them, they’ll get upset. So just send them to the gate. I train people to dupe passengers.”
Air Canada officials were quick to dismiss the assertions made by the employees. An airline spokesperson told CBC’s Erica Johnson that the policy regarding overbooking flights is “carefully managed” and that all employees are expected to be “transparent” with passengers.
“Our employees receive training to address a range of operational scenarios they may encounter, including handling denied boarding situations,” Air Canada spokesperson Angela Mah explained. “We use extensive historical data and complex algorithms to project the ‘no-show factor for select flights; where there are opportunities to reduce lost revenue by conservatively overselling without denied boarding resulting. Overselling is very carefully managed and in fact, accounts for only one percent of passengers booked, with only a fraction of those cases resulting in denied boarding.”
Air Canada frequent flyers in the Flyertalk Aeroplan forums who accept occasionally overbooked flights as a necessary sacrifice for keeping airfare reasonably priced, are far more likely to accept the airline’s rationale for letting agents at the gate make decisions about denied boarding based on prescribed policies. Flyertalkers opposed to overbooking as a rule appear far more likely to view the airline’s handling of the entire process as “dishonest.”
Is Air Canada training frontline employees to string customers along only to see their hopes dashed at the gate or are a few disgruntled employees making a mountain out of a longstanding molehill? The debate continues here.
[Image: Air Canada]