Travellers say Air Canada misled passengers whose Vancouver plane was rerouted to Winnipeg

Silvino Braga said he’s very disappointed and even pained by his experience with Air Canada. He holds up his phone, which shows many messages from Air Canada changing his flight details. (Submitted by Cristina Braga)

After spending the night on the floor of Toronto’s Pearson International Airport, Silvino Braga says he and his fellow Winnipeg-bound passengers were shocked to hear how Air Canada planned to fly them home.

Braga says airline staff announced they would be cancelling a flight to Vancouver and redirecting it to Winnipeg instead.

But he says the Vancouver-bound passengers were given a different story — Air Canada gate staff told them their flight was being cancelled due to a safety issue.

“[The Winnipeg passengers] are all standing there, we look at each other and said, ‘Wait a second. They just lied to those Vancouver people,'” said Braga.

“There isn’t anything wrong with the plane, they’re giving it to us.”

The Winnipeg-bound passengers were likely happy to be leaving Pearson, after being given yoga mats to sleep on when their flights out of Toronto were cancelled the day before. But what unfolded on Sunday left Braga wondering if Air Canada had been lying to him, too.

“We don’t know who to believe,” he said, “There was so much misinformation.”

Flight AC113 was supposed to leave Toronto and arrive in Vancouver on Sunday.

On Air Canada’s website, the reason for AC113’s cancellation reads: “We’re sorry, this flight is cancelled due to a technical issue from an earlier flight which is causing the aircraft that is scheduled to operate your flight to not be available.”

It was rebranded as a Winnipeg-bound flight, AC2069. It boarded immediately and flew passengers to Winnipeg.

CBC confirmed the same aircraft was used.

A screenshot from Air Canada’s travel app shows ‘technical issues’ as the reason for the cancelled flight to Vancouver, even though the same plane was immediately used to fly passengers to Winnipeg. (Joanne Roberts/CBC)

While Air Canada’s statement is technically true — the flight was cancelled because of an earlier technical issue — Braga says the Vancouver passengers were led to believe it was their plane that had the technical issue.

“[People] were lied to,” Braga said, adding he believes it was done by Air Canada “in a way that they hope that they don’t have to reimburse anybody.”

‘A lot of wordsmithing going on here’

Birnie McIntosh and Tracy Taylor were also passengers on the Winnipeg flight. After spending the night advocating for themselves and other passengers who were left to fend for themselves by Air Canada, they saw Air Canada gate staff telling the Vancouver-bound passengers their flight was cancelled. Then they saw the flight board change from Vancouver to Winnipeg.

Taylor believes Air Canada was careful with its words in an attempt to cover up what was really going on with the planes.

“It seems to me there’s a lot of wordsmithing going on here,” said McIntosh. He believes it was “a case of [Air Canada] preventing themselves from further liability.”

McIntosh and Taylor both say the incident has shaken their trust in the airline, and despite being longtime Air Canada flyers, they won’t do so again.

Longtime Air Canada customers Birnie McIntosh and Tracy Taylor said they won’t be flying again with the airline after what they experienced in Toronto. (Jaison Empson/CBC)

Max Johnson, a principal consultant with TTJ Tourism in Winnipeg, said the situation was an “incredibly good example of the disingenuity that Air Canada — and the other airlines — are showing.” 

Johnson said, “Air Canada’s excuse for cancelling a flight to Vancouver being safety, and thus theoretically not responsible for it, and immediately using that same unsafe aircraft to ferry people to Winnipeg [is] absolutely preposterous.”

Air Canada said in an email statement that for safety reasons related to mechanical issues, it was not able to operate all flights as scheduled. It said they communicated this information to passengers.

“In such a situation, we allocate resources to minimize the overall impact on customers. In this instance, the Toronto-Vancouver aircraft was moved to operate the Toronto-Winnipeg flight, because the Winnipeg customers were already delayed.” 

Johnson said the statement reinforced that the decision to cancel flight AC113 was a choice made by Air Canada.

“They had chosen [to cancel the flight] after the aircraft was suitable to fly,” Johnson said, “Their excuse says, ‘I made a choice not to fly you.” 

Max Johnson believes Air Canada made a choice to inconvenience passengers when they cancelled a Vancouver-bound flight and used the same plane to immediately fly passengers to Winnipeg. (Submitted by Max Johnson)

Passenger rights advocate Gabor Lukacs believes Air Canada is using deliberate language to mislead the public so it can avoid paying compensation that passengers are entitled to by law.

“The cancellation of the flight from Toronto to Vancouver had nothing to do with maintenance issues. That aircraft was in perfect functionality,” he said, “Air Canada made a managerial business decision to reassign that aircraft to a different flight.”

Lukacs said passengers need to hold airlines accountable when they don’t follow federal regulation.

“Air Canada needs to be coming into compliance with the law and they need to actually respect that Canadians have rights,” he said.

Braga wants to know if Air Canada is looking into the situation and putting procedures in place.

“It’s a Canadian company. We want to be proud of Canada,” Braga said, “Come on. Step it up.”

Gabor Lukacs, president of Air Passenger Rights, said passengers need to hold airlines accountable when they breach their responsibilities. (CBC)

The Canadian Transportation Agency said in an emailed statement it couldn’t comment on the situation as it hasn’t yet had a complaint filed. 

It said airlines are expected to comply with regulatory requirements, including the Air Passenger Protections Regulations, and terms and conditions of carriage when selling a ticket.

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