Tuesday, April 14, 2015

Flyer beware: is a direct flight really direct?


WATCH: Some frustrated airline passengers serve as a reminder that it’s always wise to read the fine print. Jennifer Tryon reports.
Desperate to escape what seemed like Canada’s never ending winter, Laura Kirby booked a direct flight to Puerto Plata, Dominican Republic, on CanJet.
She said she booked “direct” to optimize her vacation time.
But, once on board she said half of the passengers were destined for Punta Cana (also in the Dominican Republic) and the plane was dropping them off and picking up new passengers there first.
“As far and I knew, and as far as was shown on our flight print out, it was a direct flight,” Kirby told Global News.
“When I first booked there was no mention of stopping in Punta Cana. There was no mention of any stop,” another passenger, Jon Manzanares said.
Kirby said no one around her, on board the plane, knew about any stops.
In camera footage obtained by Global News, taken on-board the CanJet flight, a flight attendant is heard telling passengers even she didn’t know there was going to be a stop until the day before.
“I didn’t know this was a double stop until yesterday,” she told a passenger. “When I bid for this flight it was Toronto to Punta Cana.”
Camera footage from the flight, captured during the stop, shows passengers double booked in seats.
The captain said the flight is now overbooked by four passengers and everyone onboard is required to show their boarding cards again.
Kirby said this lead to chaos on board and nearly an extra hour delay on the tarmac, in addition to the extra flight time.
On camera, the flight attendant is heard explaining to passengers why the plane is making extra stops.
“From a business standpoint it’s because we’re losing a lot of money.”
She goes on to say, “If you’re not satisfied you can call the company.”
CanJet didn’t respond to Global’s repeated requests for an interview over a five-week period — including a registered letter to CanJet’s president, Stephen Rowe.
In an email received before the story was scheduled to air on Global National Monday evening, John Kirk, Vice President of Sales and Marketing CanJet Vacations, said CanJet was unaware of the requests for an interview.
“This comes as somewhat of a surprise as we have received very few complaints regarding changes in flight schedules throughout the winter,” wrote Kirk. He went on to write that CanJet advises passengers in advance of departure regarding “flight consolidations” based on information on file.
Kirk says Kirby’s travel agent was notified two weeks prior that the direct flight was now going to include a stop. Kirby and her travel agent say they received no notification.
In the fine print on CanJet’s website, the airline reserves the right not to tell passengers when changes are made.
CanJet’s Terms of Agreement when booking a flight online say: “Consolidations and changes in the …schedule, aircraft type, days of operation….and flight itinerary may be undertaken at any time and without prior notice…”
Many passengers, like Kirby, are unaware that some airlines have different definitions for non-stop and direct flights.
For example, some travel websites warn that “direct” flights can mean one-stop, if passengers aren’t required to get off the plane. A “non-stop” flight should guarantee no stops that will fly immediately to the destination.
The Consumers’ Association of Canada said it has received complaints from travellers who’ve booked direct flights from CanJet and learned while in the air they were making a stop.
“They’re advertising one thing and delivering something else,” said Bruce Cran, president of the Consumer Association of Canada. “That’s like buying and apple and delivering you a banana and we don’t want this.”
The Association wants the Canadian Competition Bureau to investigate.
“It’s giving these people at Canjet an unfair advantage when they’re claiming one thing and actually supplying another,” Cran said. “There is a lot wrong here and I’m hoping the competition bureau will have a look at it because they’re in charge of false advertising and it seems to me that’s exactly where this falls.”
In an email, the Competition Bureau said investigations are confidential and won’t make public whether it’s looking into CanJet’s flying practices. The government agency said if complaints are made and if CanJet is found to be in violation of good practices, information would then be released.
“They’ll get away with it unless someone complains and it’s reached the stage, I think, where a lot of people are complaining,” said Cran. “At the moment, [travellers] are telling us that they probably would have bought something else if they had known there was a stop in the middle.”
Kirby said she would have.
She now wants a full refund from CanJet because her flight home from Puerta Plata, she said, also made a stop unbeknownst to her and other passengers.
CanJet said it’s going to work with Kirby directly to resolve the complaint.
“They need to know that this isn’t okay and we aren’t going to stop until we get some sort of compensation,” Kirby said.
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