Toronto family out $8,000 after infant daughter’s Air Canada booking goes wrong

A Toronto family returning from a trip to Iran had to spend almost $8,000 in extra tickets and expenses because of a mix-up that prevented their infant daughter from getting a boarding pass.

“The guy told me ‘your ticket has an issue,’” said Amir Chegini, explaining the response at the British Airways ticket counter in Tehran on Oct. 27 last year.

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Chegini, his wife Tannaz and nine-month-old daughter Niki were returning from Iran after a vacation when suddenly they faced an intractable problem: British Airways refused to permit their daughter on the aircraft, even though both parents had valid tickets and their daughter’s name appears on the tickets and itinerary.

“They said the Air Canada record doesn’t match the British Airways record,” said Chegini, explaining the first of several conversations at the airport.

Chegini booked his entire trip on the Air Canada website. He paid a total of $9,969 for business class travel which included flights from Toronto to Paris on Air Canada, Frankfurt to Tehran on Lufthansa, and return legs from Tehran to London on British Airways, and a London to Toronto flight on Air Canada.

The outgoing flights were not a problem. But in Tehran, the family faced a serious challenge when it came to their daughter who, because of her age, didn’t require her own seat.

“I can see her name but it doesn’t match our record — we can’t issue a boarding pass for her,” Chegini says he was told over and over. At one point, the agent joked that at least part of the family could go ahead.

“They told me you and your wife don’t have a problem, you can board the plane, but you have to leave your child here,” he said.

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Unable to board that day, Chegini says he was told to remain in Tehran an extra day and return the next, assured by Air Canada and British Airways that any problems would be remedied. But the next day, the little girl could still not fly and the family remained grounded.

Chegini says he offered to purchase a seat for his daughter in order to make it possible to board the flight; but he was told British Airways does not have a ticket office at the Tehran airport, only in the centre of the city. He says that was not a solution to the issue at hand.

Finally, with no other option, Chegini purchased tickets from Emirates and the family flew to London before joining their previously-arranged Air Canada flight to Toronto.

The cost of those new tickets, plus hotel and transportation costs for the extra time in Tehran amounted to about $8,000, Chegini said.

When he returned to Canada, Chegini contacted both British Airways and Air Canada seeking compensation. He says British Airways said it was not responsible, and Air Canada responded similarly.

An Air Canada customer relations representative told Chegini by email:

“From all accounts, (per the notes on the historical file), our Call Centre staff went the extra effort of contacting their British Airways counterpart to rectify the problem on multiple occasion but in each instance they were unwilling to assist with fixing your daughter’s ticket. Once again I do offer our sincere apologies were unable to assist further with this issue.”

Chegini says another representative offered the Air Canada frequent flyer a 20 per cent to 25 per cent discount on a future flight, an offer he rejected.

Contacted by Global News, Air Canada spokesperson Peter Fitzpatrick said “the family improperly incurred an $8,000 bill and Air Canada is to blame.”

But by email, Fitzpatrick emphasized the problems were outside Air Canada’s control.

“The flight they had difficulties boarding was a British Airways flight. This is not an Air Canada flight nor a codeshare flight. Effectively, in these situations the ticket issuing carrier (here Air Canada) acts as an agent for British Airways selling the ticket. But British Airways alone is responsible for providing the transport. That said, our agent did contact British Airways on three occasions to assist this family while they were attempting to use their ticket out of Tehran but was unable to help them resolve the matter.”

Consumer rights advocate Gabor Lukacs says Air Canada bears responsibility, at least in part.

“If one airline sells the ticket and another airline performs the carriage, still the airline that sold the ticket is on the hook too,” said Lukacs, who operates Air Passenger Rights based in Halifax.

“Air Canada is trying to dodge liability here. Whether they are ultimately liable is a question that maybe a court will have to decide because there are two players involved here,” he said.

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While British Airways initially told Chegini to deal with Air Canada, a company representative told Global News it is “investigating the claim.”

Chegini says he was effectively left on his own in Tehran to find his own way home.

“If someone else had such a situation, what does it mean that you’re on your own?” he said.

Chegini says he is fortunate he had the financial means to book other flights and there were no language problems for him to overcome at the airport. He expressed concern that other travellers, counting on a seamless booking, would be in trouble.

“If someone else had such a situation, what does it mean that you’re on your own?”

— With files from David Lao

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