April 1, 2008
Air Canada Customer Service
RE: AC 875 / AC2875
To Whom it may concern:
I am writing today with regards to Air Canada flight 875 and 2-875 from Frankfurt to Montreal on March 21 and 22, 2008.
The flight was scheduled to leave Frankfurt Germany at 11:10 AM on March 21, 2008. The boarding of the aircraft was routine and without incident. Following the completion of the first boarding, passengers - including myself - remained seated inside the aircraft for approximately 90 minutes after which the Captain of the aircraft (Mason) advised the passengers that there was a mechanical malfunction (ignition failure) with the port side engine and that we would be deplaning. Captain Mason stated that the aircraft would be deplaned because of the inability to cool the inside of the aircraft during the repair procedure. We remained at the gate for another 60-90 minutes before reboarding. Once we were back on the plane it took another 90 minutes for the plane to be de-iced. The aircraft was then pushed back for departure whereupon we were told by Captain Mason that "this plane will not fly today." and that the aircraft was being towed to another area of the airport for deplaning. By this time the temperature inside the aircraft had become unbearable. The aircraft was then towed to a holding area. At that time Captain Mason had changed his mind and decided to try to salvage the flight, advising us that a part was coming from Lufthansa and that after the part arrived and the repairs were made the flight would depart. By now the temperature in the cabin had peaked causing passengers - especially the infants and elderly on board - extreme discomfort. The air inside the cabin was stale and the odour from the toilets was overwhelming. At one point the cabin crew opened the aircraft doors to try to alleviate the heat and the stench, but this did little to improve the conditions in the cabin. I saw one mother with her child move past us - the child's head was flush from the heat. A female passenger behind us barely made it to one of the cabin crew for water - she was very close to passing out. At this time I removed my video equipment from the overhead cabin and began to document the scene and conditions on the aircraft. It was obvious that in addition to the extremely uncomfortable conditions, the passengers - myself included - were experiencing anxiety over the manner in which the situation was being handled and about the integrity of the aircraft itself. At this point myself and at least 2 other passengers approached a flight attendant and expressed our concerns about our circumstances and in integrity of the aircraft and the hurried repairs that were being made. We made it clear to the flight attendant that we did not wish to travel on this aircraft and that we wished to leave the aircraft. At that time the senior flight attendant in charge approached both myself and the other passengers who wished to deplane and went into what must have been a very well rehearsed speech designed to intimidate those who may want to exit the aircraft under adverse circumstances and delivered loudly and forcefully in such a manner as to be heard by all of the other passengers in the cabin. It was evident that the senior flight attendant was trying to bully and / or humiliate us. I felt at this point that we were being both stalled and held against our wishes. I was becoming physically ill and I was stifling the urge vomit. Withing 30 minutes of the the senior flight attendant's diatribe, Captain Mason informed us that he could not obtain permission from NavCanada to operate the aircraft and that he was officially cancelling the flight. That announcement came at approximately 4:30 pm. We were then kept on the aircraft for approximately another 30 minutes waiting for buses to arrive to take us back to the terminal.
When the buses arrived we were allowed to deplane. We were taken back to the terminal and given insufficient information with regards to how the cancellation would be dealt with. It was mayhem. We finally learned that we would be staying another night in Frankfurt. In spite of the sketchy information that was provided to us by the cabin crew, most of the passengers located the hotel representative who lead us through the terminal to more awaiting buses which in turn took us to a local hotel for the evening. Upon check-in we were told that information on the rescheduled flight would be provided later that evening. We learned later that night that the flight was rescheduled for 9:00 AM and that 5:00 AM wake up calls had been ordered for all passengers by Air Canada. I did not receive such a wake up call. On the morning of March 22, 2008 we boarded buses that took us back to the terminal at Frankfurt where we made our way to the Air Canada check-in counter. At 6:15 AM I was one of the first in line at the counter. At 7:05 AM only two Air Canada ticketing agents were present and only one of those was actively attending to passengers. At that time the number of passengers waiting to be processed included all of those from the cancelled flight plus the passengers from a regularly scheduled flight. It was a scene of utter kaos. A male Air Canada agent busied himself by slowly loading labels into the luggage tag printers while the other female agent tried to process a growing, frustrated group of passengers from two flights. The female agent had a large stack of pre-printed boarding passes. As passengers pushed forward and presented themselves she would attempt to flip through the stack of boarding passes one at a time looking for that passengers name. At least twice she moved from behind the counter out into the mass of passengers waving the boarding passes around and shrieking that the passengers must get in line - even though they were in line and had been since 6:15. The actions (and inaction) of the Air Canada counter agents caused even more agitation amongst the large crowd of passengers. At one point a frustrated passenger continued to ask the make agent who was loading the baggage tag printers why he was not helping process passengers. The Air Canada ticket agent did not reply or even acknowledge the question and continued to load the printers while ignoring the passenger. At approximately 8 AM I received my boarding pass. When my flight landed in Montreal I had less than one hour to catch the connecting flight I had been re-booked on. Throughout this connection I found the Air Canada staff to be both unhelpful and unfriendly. As part of my luggage I had a case that contained two valuable musical instruments and as per the instructions of the Air Canada gate agents, these were submitted by hand to the "special" baggage handling areas. One both occasions when I collected my luggage the instrument case was delivered with the regular luggage which, in Montreal, almost caused me to miss my flight. One of the instruments was damaged during handling.
In air travel, it is completely reasonable to expect delays due to a variety of reasons and as a reasonable person and a regular air traveler, I can accept that. As a reasonable person and regular air traveler, I also have certain expectations. I do not think it is unreasonable to expect that Air Canada would anticipate scenarios such as flight AC875 and that contingency plans would be in place and would be designed to minimize the stress and discomfort a passenger might experience under such circumstances.
Nothing - nothing I experienced on AC875 or AC2875 would lead me to believe that the Air Canada representatives involved in this situation truly cared about Air Canada's customers on AC875 or AC2875. We were all treated like cattle. Nothing I experienced would lead me to believe that any contingency Air Canada might have for such incidents was practiced or properly executed. The senior flight attendant was nothing less than abusive in her attempts to bully and humiliate passengers who voiced legitimate concerns. The agents at the Air Canada check in counter were unhelpful, unfriendly, abusive, unprepared and incompetent. As a photojournalist, I want Air Canada to understand that my experience on flight AC875 and AC2875 is well documented in both photo and video.
You may view some but not all of the images by following this link:
I chose to fly with Air Canada not because I want to, but because most of the time I have no other choice. On the occasions where I do have a choice, I will fly with another airline, even it it means driving to another city. In spite of those efforts I still find myself a "Platinum" Aeroplan member. (Who is STILL owed a promised number of upgrade passes upon becoming a Platinum member - might those be coming anytime soon?). I know that at some point I will have to no choice but to fly with Air Canada, and that is, in part, one reason for this letter. As a reasonable person, I would like to afford Air Canada the opportunity to make good on what was the worst travel experience I have ever had in my 45 years. It didn't have to be this way and it would have taken so little to make this difficult situation manageable.