Diomerys O’Leary was already nervous about letting her 14-year-old daughter fly alone to visit her father in the Dominican Republic, but she never imagined that Air Canada would dump the girl at the biggest airport in the world. Canada after canceling the last leg of his return trip. .
A Jan. 18 email notified O’Leary that her daughter Eva’s flight from Toronto’s Pearson International Airport to St. John’s had been canceled due to a labor disruption at the airport in Newfoundland and -Labrador, and rescheduled for two days later.
Then came the flood of texts from her panicked daughter, saying that Air Canada had told her she was on her own to find a place to sleep, food and transportation.
O’Leary told her daughter to return to the Air Canada counter and ask for help again, but said staff turned the girl away a second time.
“She was crying and desperate, asking me ‘What am I doing?’ … I just couldn’t believe it,” O’Leary told Go Public.
It was the start of a 24-hour ordeal, as O’Leary rushed more than 2,000 kilometers to find a place to lodge his daughter and something to eat.
“What do they have [Air Canada] expect her to do? Sit on a bench and sleep on it for days without even feeding it, or anything?” O’Leary said.
“[This will come] as a pretty big surprise to a lot of adults if they send their child on a plane…because under Air Canada’s own rules they could be abandoned,” said Ian Jack, vice president of public affairs at the Canadian Automobile Association.
“You would expect carriers to have good procedures in place for this.”
Like other airlines — WestJet and Air Transat among them — Air Canada offers a paid service under certain conditions, where staff help children fly on their own. But this service is not available for multi-stop trips like Eva’s.
In these cases, the airline said in an email that its practice “is to give priority assistance to certain passengers traveling with us, such as the disabled, the elderly and the young”, but says that this that day, she was facing “unforeseen and sudden”. “flight cancellations and “hundreds of customers requiring assistance”.
‘The worst day of my life’
O’Leary spent hours on the phone and online trying to arrange help for her daughter, while the girl waited alone at the Toronto airport.
Hotels would not take an underage teenager. She had no money for food and her Apple Pay app was not working.
O’Leary eventually found an Airbnb that would allow Eva to spend the night, booked an Uber to take her there, and ordered delivery so her daughter could eat.
“It was the worst day of my life,” she said. “Even after putting her up, I couldn’t sleep that night.”
The next step was to bring her daughter home.
After spending nearly two hours on hold with Air Canada, O’Leary offered Eva a flight to Gander, NL, the next day, then bought a bus ticket to St. John’s.
Air Canada told Go Public that the call center agent “offered to help him find accommodation, but the customer’s mother refused.”
But O’Leary provided a recording of that conversation and the agent said she couldn’t help with accommodations.
Instead, the call center agent told O’Leary Eva that she should try another Air Canada office and that she “needs to be a little assertive” when asking for help. helping staff a third time. By then, O’Leary had already booked the Airbnb herself while waiting to speak to the agent.
Asked about the discrepancy, Air Canada said the agent tried to help “by instructing the mother on how to proceed.”
Air Canada said it is “generally not advised” for children to travel alone when traveling on connecting or international flights, “due to the possibility of unforeseen flight disruptions beyond the airline’s control. “.
This warning is not about the airline”Children traveling alone” section of its website or mentioned in the reservation.
Air travel can be unpredictable at the best of times. And it’s been even harder to have a smooth flight during the pandemic, which late last year saw massive disruption among US carriers and an advisory to Canadians against non-essential international travel.
Air travel has been difficult during the pandemic, with advisories back and forth for Canadians against non-essential international travel and disruptions across the board for carriers.
Still, O’Leary says she has no regrets.
“I tried the first resource, which was the airline. Once they did nothing, I just did everything in my power to keep my daughter safe.”
She wants to see Air Canada take more responsibility or stop accepting minors traveling alone on multi-segment flights.
“They are happy to take my money but don’t take responsibility for its safety,” she said.
No more abandoned children
Air Canada rules, related to at the bottom of his home page indicate on page 49 of the 122-page document for international travel that the airline “will not assume any financial or guardianship responsibility for unaccompanied minors beyond those applicable to an adult passenger”.
WestJet and Air Transat have the same rule.
Adult passengers receive nothing if the flight is interrupted for reasons beyond the carrier’s control, such as a labor disruption in St. John’s.
It is a policy change. Years ago, the Air Canada website stated – even without the “unaccompanied minor” service – that young people between the ages of 12 and 17 would be “taken care of by our agents. We will also arrange accommodation, meals and transportation if necessary.
The airline removed this policy sometime after January 2013. It did not say why or when it made the change.
Even the relatively new Air Passenger Protection Regulations, which came into force in 2019, falls swrong when it comes to protecting young travelers by failing to clearly spell out an airline’s responsibilities, says Jack.
The regulations state that “airlines must establish a program for the carriage of unaccompanied minors”, but leave it up to carriers to decide what those programs include.
Transport Canada sets the rules and the Canadian Transportation Agency (CTA) enforces them. Go Public both asked if they plan to provide more protection for children traveling alone.
Transport Canada said the CTA was “in a better position to respond.”
The CTA said it can only do what Transport Canada rules allow and they don’t include anything about airlines’ specific responsibilities to minors traveling alone.
Given the lack of details legislation, Jack says that at the very least airlines need to be clearer that underage children could be left on their own when flights are cancelled.
After all, it’s happened before.
In 2016, Air Canada was asked to change its policies after a 15-year-old boy from Nova Scotia was bumped from a flight and left to sleep on the floor at Pearson. Two years earlier, another teenager had spent the night alone at the same airport with only a $10 food voucher after his Air Canada flight was turned back to Saint John, New Brunswick, due to bad weather .
“We have to recognize that there is is clearly an issue here,” with airline staff and possibly government regulations, Jack said.
After hearing from Go Public, Air Canada offered O’Leary a $500 travel coupon “as a sign of goodwill,” which O’Leary says he declined, saying “it was never about ‘silver”.
She says all she wants is a clear explanation from the airline, but she hasn’t gotten it.
“I can’t just accept what happened to my daughter and I don’t want it to happen to other families.” She says Eva is fine now, but doubts she will fly alone again.
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