When Kelly Mandzuk went to check the status of his Air Canada reservation on the airline’s smartphone app, he couldn’t believe his eyes.
After punching in his booking number, he saw a fully confirmed ticket, email address and flight information. Only one problem — it wasn’t his flight, or his personal information.
“It was on my app for at least three hours. First and last name, booking reference number, that person’s email address, day, date, time and flight number of their flight,” said Mandzuk, who’d recently booked a trip from Regina to Vancouver and back.
He immediately emailed the airline to ask for proof his own personal info wasn’t sitting on someone else’s phone. It took them two days to respond.
“They asked me to delete any info that they sent me. I’ve refused to do that until they assure me my info has not been sent to someone else,” Mandzuk said. “They assured me it was a minor technical glitch and all was now fixed.”
Mandzuk’s unnerving experience is just one of many recent examples of frustrated customers struggling to deal with glitches caused by the switch to a new reservation system, which was launched by Air Canada on Nov. 19.
There have also been complaints of would-be flyers being unable to book or change flights, difficulty getting through to the airline’s call centre and a general lack of communication.
Passenger rights advocate Gabor Lukacs said discussion forums on his website Airpassengerrights.com have been inundated with complaints from frustrated would-be flyers since the launch of the new reservations system.
“Something has gone fundamentally wrong. It’s been going on for three weeks,” said Lukacs. “This isn’t a stand-alone problem or mistake. This is widespread.”
Federal Transport Minister Marc Garneau has received so many complaints, he has spoken with Air Canada about the issue, but said that his department “cannot do anything” to resolve it. Garneau said Transport Canada has been hearing from “frustrated” customers and that the airline is “doing their best to fix” the defects.
When contacted by the Star, Air Canada acknowledged there have been problems with the new booking system, along with much longer than usual wait times when calling or emailing to book flights or make changes to reservations.
Air Canada spokesperson Peter Fitzpatrick stressed that the airline’s schedules haven’t been affected by any of the booking issues, and said building the new reservations system was a two-year project which included 700,000 hours of computer development time.
“With any IT project of such complexity, issues are inevitable and we are diligently fixing them and, in the end, the system will be much better for customers, replacing as it does a 25-year-old legacy system,” Fitzpatrick said.
He said the technical issues associated with the changeover have led to more calls to the airline’s call centre, and long wait times have been compounded by the fact that call volumes were already higher than usual because of log-in and password changes for Aeroplan members.
Fitzpatrick also acknowledged that some duplicate booking numbers were issued during the changeover, which could result in customers receiving another person’s itinerary.
“In a very limited number of instances — a fraction of well under 1 per cent — booking reference numbers were duplicated during the data migration from the old system to the new. As a result, some customers could access the wrong travel information, but no personal financial or passport data was affected,” Fitzpatrick said.
Giving access to someone else’s personal contact information and flight details is a serious breach of privacy, according to Ontario’s former Information and Privacy commissioner Ann Cavoukian.
“That’s really egregious. There can be serious consequences to something like that from a privacy perspective, and from an identify theft perspective,” said Cavoukian, who added that she wasn’t surprised that even a company as large as Air Canada could have such a privacy breach, given previous breaches at Equifax and Capital One.
Other passengers complain of less serious, but still frustrating — and sometimes costly — customer service issues.
Two weeks ago, Christine Allison booked a cheap flight for her son to come home to Toronto from Phoenix. His schedule changed at the last minute, so she tried to rebook the flight (or cancel it for credit) within the allowable 24-hour period. She called repeatedly.
On the times she got through, she’d be on hold for up to 90 minutes, she said, before getting an automated message saying call volumes were higher than usual, and she could no longer be kept on hold. As the clock counted down on the 24 hours, she tried again, via direct message on Facebook. After a few messages were exchanged, there was silence. She was finally able to cancel the original flight over the phone, but not before the 24 hours had passed. She ended up having to buy a separate ticket entirely.
“It’s frustrating and expensive. I feel let down,” said Allison.
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For Daniel Stannett, the switchover trouble booking flights online to get to a friend’s wedding in Australia this spring, so he tried calling the airline. After hours of being on hold, he got sick of waiting. He tried emailing, and sending messages on Twitter and Facebook. For over a week, he hasn’t been able to get through.
Stannett had been hoping to book a flight either using some of his 200,000 or so Aeroplan points, or to find a reasonably priced option. He’s concerned that Aeroplan seats and other reasonably-priced options may have been snapped up in the interim.
“It’s completely absurd how a corporation can operate like this,” said Stannett. “People can’t book, people can’t change their flights. It’s madness. While I can understand that problems arise with the implementation of new systems … it does not excuse having zero contingency plan in place. You can’t just shut the phones off and go silent on social media in the wake of what’s happening.”
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