It was bound to happen eventually: Air Canada now wants you to pay extra for better customer service.
In an era of continued cost-cutting, the country’s largest airline yesterday rolled out a new service called “On My Way” that, for a fee, promises to help passengers cope with delays and cancellations beyond the airline’s control, including bad weather or airport traffic.
“This is something that many airlines used to do in-house,” said Rick Erickson, a Calgary-based airline consultant. “But since the advent of the low-cost carrier, everybody wants cheap fares.”
Air Canada said passengers who opt to pay an additional $25 one-way on short-haul flights and an extra $35 one-way on long-haul routes within North America will receive “speedy” access to “specially-trained” customer service agents who will help rebook flights on Air Canada or other airlines, as well as pay for hotel stays and meals, if necessary.
Air Canada said the program, which applies to any flight cancelled within 48 hours of the scheduled departure, goes beyond the industry practice of assisting customers affected by schedule changes deemed to be the airline’s fault, such as mechanical problems with aircraft, scheduling glitches or crew members failing to show up for flights.
But while Air Canada is touting the program as an industry-first, at least one observer said it was once common for big North American carriers to go out of their way to help inconvenienced or stranded customers – free.
Erickson said Air Canada’s latest effort could prove popular given Canada’s unpredictable winter weather, particularly at the country’s largest airport in Toronto, where thousands of flights can be disrupted by a snowstorm.
However, Erickson cautioned that Air Canada will need to ensure customers who pay extra get their money’s worth.
“When there’s a disruption, everyone’s going to be calling at the same time,” he said. “And if you can’t deliver on this, there will be real hell to pay as far as public relations go.
“People are going to have heightened expectations.”