Spoiler: Flair doesn’t care

ARTICLE OVERVIEW:

Flair Airlines cancels roundtrip flights and does nothing to accommodate alternate travel

Flair rep says Flair hasn’t contacted customer about cancellation, hangs up when pressed for answers

Flair’s executive chairman attempts to make nice but fuels situation by being uninformed and defensive about company’s actions 

Stories from other Flair customers who’ve been grounded

Air Passenger Rights offers suggestions, advice for holding airline accountable

Like many travellers, I’m sick of expensive airfares that see me crammed me into an uncomfortable plane for several hours. Hearing all about the discount carriers operating throughout North America, and Winnipeg Cheapskate, my company decided to book with Flair Airlines for travel this past April.

We were taping tourism radio programming in Phoenix in early April. It was co-ordinated in December and the flights to and from Winnipeg were booked that same month. In fact, it was a Boxing Day sale, if I’m not mistaken.

January was a busy time as we launched into covering awards show season. We paid no mind to the upcoming spring break programming, however itinerary planning with the local tourism board began in February as we circled back around to the Arizona content.

Fast forward to March 13 when I was sitting in a meeting and randomly got an email from Flair Airlines — Canada’s low-cost, low-care carrier. The subject line was, “Flair Airlines – Flight Voucher.” I didn’t think anything of it. I figured it was their low-end way of sending a boarding pass or something. (If you’ve seen their website, you know they don’t try too hard with spelling and grammar so it’s a legitimate thought. You know, calling Winnipeg’s famed The Forks “The Fork” and not knowing the difference between “it’s” and “its.”)

Instead, it was their roundabout way of apologizing for a flight cancellation. Though what’s curious is that there is no mention of them cancelling the flight in that message. The email goes on to say, “We know how frustrating changes to your travel plans are and apologize again for this. We’d like to offer you a travel voucher* for use on future Flair flights.” (In case you’re wondering, the asterisk refers to this disclaimer: “Travel voucher is valid through June 30, 2019. Applicable to base fare only. Only one voucher code may be used per booking.” So, essentially they’re only sorry for a few months. Then again, maybe June 30 is the day they’re finally shutting down for good. Kudos to you have if you have that in your office pool.) 

Confused, I forwarded the email to one of our segment producers with the message, “What is this?” He quickly did some digging and said it sounded like my flight was cancelled. I innocently called Flair-Don’t-Care to inquire about the email. The rep on the phone said that it was in response to the flight cancellation from a month earlier (February).

More confused, I said I had no idea what she was talking about. The rep said I should have received an email weeks earlier informing me of the change. For the record, I had not. (Later, Flair, whose Better Business Bureau rating is an F, attempted to explain why I hadn’t received it, though an audit of our email system disproved their claim of a spam block.)

Thankfully with weeks to go before the scheduled departure, we had time to rebook with another airline. True, it cost more but at least it was a trusted American airline that doesn’t strand customers, left, right and sideways. It was a trusted American airline that doesn’t only make news when it’s getting dragged through the mud with its disregard for consumers. It was a trusted American airline that doesn’t hang up on customers when they panic that their vacation is suddenly ruined because the company makes a surprise business decision that catches hundreds, if not thousands, of people off guard. And it certainly wasn’t a trusted American airline that calls the cops on passengers when they’re pissed off by bad service.

Jump now to April 2 – two days before my scheduled departure to Phoenix – and, on a hunch, I decide to call Flair to find out if my flight was still a go. Could you imagine showing up to the airport thinking you’re flying out only to discover you’re grounded? Is that even possible? What do you think this story is headed?

Sure enough, I was cancelled. Worse yet, the monotone’d and uninterested rep confirmed the airline didn’t contact me about it. The phone agent said the flight was cancelled on March 25 and in response to being asked when I was contacted, she said it was Feb. 25. Yes. That’s correct. She told me Flair let me know an entire month before the flight was cancelled that it was cancelled. (The great thing when you call someone from a radio studio is that calls are easily recorded!) In that moment she said, “The email team might not have followed up with that, no.” There you have it. She looked in the file and confirmed no contact from Flair had been made. (Flair later contradicts this in a statement provided to SpeakFree Media.)

I asked who I could speak with about the lack of communication and she said there was no one else. I asked for her supervisor and she said she didn’t know who that was. Yes! Truly, that’s what she said to me. She didn’t know her own supervisor. Pressed further, I asked her for the media relations contact and she said she didn’t know who it was. I asked her if she could get the information for me and she said no. (The general media email address was posted on the Flair website at the time.)

Fed up, and while I was recapping the assistance the Flair rep wasn’t willing to provide, I realized the call had been disconnected. Believe it or not, while giving the Flair employee a rundown of how they’d screwed me over and specifics about what she wasn’t willing to do for me, she just thought, “Fuck it, I’m done” and hung up on me.

Flair later confirmed in an emailed statement that the rep “appears to have disconnected the call.” Though we hadn’t asked about any personnel matters, Flair willingly noted, “Based on a general performance review, the agent who handled the April 2nd call was suspended on April 11th and was subsequently terminated on April 22nd.” Shockingly I thought they would’ve promoted her to media relations or executive after that stellar performance.

Following that infuriating interaction with Flair, we did reach out to media relations and got a prompt reply from Julie Rempel who said she’d be happy to look into the matter. After weeks of requesting followup, Julie went MIA and some “executive assistant” called Lindsey Von Tiesenhausen jumped in on April 12. I was told Rempel was transitioning out of media relations and wouldn’t comment further but a new customer service manager was being groomed to screw over Flair passengers – well, not in so many words, but, you know…

From then, Von Tiesenhausen was the point of contact, often going days without replying to repeated emails. She later said that she was working on the file every day (“I have worked on it every single day”) though I questioned what could possibly be taking so long to research one file. Von Tiesenhausen cited outside factors involving other companies as the delay, noting, “I am desperately working to get you a response.”

When asked to put a timeframe on it, Von Tiesenhausen was unwilling to do so and also mentioned that because the call was being recorded she wouldn’t elaborate much. (Truthfully, she said a lot in that 4 minutes and 20 seconds for someone who allegedly wasn’t comfortable speaking on the record.) The takeaway was that someone would contact me within days about a resolution, while adding, “We don’t want it to become a media thing.” Fun fact: Screwing over a reporter/broadcaster/commentator has the opposite effect.

We parted ways and I got a call from Flair’s executive chairman, David Tait. And the call was anything but pleasant. Almost immediately after the hello, Tait launched into excuses about the Boeing grounding and lack of business demand for Flair’s offerings as reasons for customers getting it up the chute. Shocking, I know. With that, I’ll let Tait’s words speak for him.

“Sometimes we cannot, simply cannot, sustain ongoing services that aren’t making money. And so we launched a very ambitious program of flights to the United States and then when the – I think you were told this at one stage – the grounding of the Max, um, put us into a position where the two aircraft we had leased from a lessor… they had a lot of Maxes in their fleet and they had an option in the contract to take these aircraft back early.”

Tait noted it was two aircraft but Rempel in media relations on April 2 said, “…we were unexpectedly affected by having one of our leased aircraft returned early to its leasor (sic).”

Another internal Flair contradiction. (Yet they question why we record calls.)

On the subject of Rempel, Tait and I discussed the lengthy recording of a radio rant in which the company’s media relations rep was named. Tait then made a request that I thought was hilarious.

“I really would ask that you respect the privacy of some of the Flair employees that you name on there … I would ask a favour – a favour, call it what you will – that naming employees and spelling out the names and so forth is something that I ask that maybe you want to redact from that piece if that’s possible.”

My response? “Why? When they’re media relations, when that’s their job is to be the name… their name is spelled out in every news report that you guys have so, no, I reject that.” Indeed, you can see Rempel’s name spelled out dozens of times including HERE, HERE, HERE, HERE, HERE, HERE and HERE. (Sooooo, is Tait sending them cease and desist letters?)

Through the conversation it was clear that Tait was either given incorrect information from his team or went into the call so blindly that he felt like a quick apology was enough and that would be the end of it. Wrong. In the 27 minutes we talked he interrupted and spoke over me – as I did him, though I wasn’t the one trying to make nice – ultimately getting combative and defending things he admittedly couldn’t speak to with any certainty.

On more than one occasion, I noted to Tait that the back and forth was making things worse and that we should end the conversation and regroup when he’d had a chance to review all the information and could comment with some authority. As another phone rang in the background, Tait seemed eager to help his son with an alleged car issue and attempted numerous times to give me the brushoff that Friday afternoon. Eventually, I relented and told him to get back to me when he was able to connect all the dots and complete the puzzle.

Fast forward several more days and Flair went silent (again). No response to an email on Monday. No response to an email on Tuesday. No response to an email on Wednesday. Finally, Flair’s Von Tiesenhausen resurfaced and sent four PDFs of information (noting they’re “protected” for some reason) and was told the company would make no further comment.

I should add that Flair failed to provide the audio recording of the customer service call in question from April 2, instead merely sending a transcript with the words “confidential – not for media release” watermarked across the pages. This once again contradicts an email from Von Tiesenhausen on April 12 in which she stated, “We are in the process of obtaining any audio recordings of your conversations with Flair’s customer support line and will provide all relevant recordings to you as soon as possible, and in any event within 30 days of the date which your request was received, in accordance with applicable privacy legislation.” (Canadians: Take note of privacy rules in this country.)

The kicker was that Von Tiesenhausen’s email even instructed me how to go about getting involved in the class action lawsuit against Flair.

In the end, I was only refunded for the flight cancellations (and provided the lucrative Flair voucher). I was not reimbursed for price differences for flights with different airlines. Flair offered no compensation, save for Tait at one point suggesting I take advantage of a near-cross-country flight Flair was introducing that wasn’t near a convenient airport. I declined.

Because Flair pissed around for weeks on end, it gave me plenty of time to engage with the airline’s customers on social media. Do you think they had similar stories? We’ll let the Twitter feed speak for itself.

So, what can passengers do if they’ve been screwed over by Flair? (You know, aside from joining that class action lawsuit.) I reached out to my new BFF Gábor Lukács from Air Passenger Rights for his insight.

“A deal is a deal,” said Lukács. “The contract binds both passengers and airlines. An airline cannot just walk away from the obligation to transport passengers. The airline cannot force you to accept a refund just because they changed their plans the same way that you cannot force them to give you a refund just because you change yours.”

And while it might seem daunting, there are several things jilted customers can do.

“In a situation like this, I recommend passengers to do the following: send the airline a letter of demand and fixing a deadline by which you want the airline to rebook you, and advising the airline that if they fail to do so, you will rebook yourself and seek damages; if ignored or refused, buy tickets on another airline, and send a second letter of demand to the airline, this time for compensation; if still ignored or refused, sue the airline — either in your provincial small claims court or through the class action,” said Lukács.

Much like Flair, Lukács empowered me to reach out to the law firm representing the airline’s customers moving ahead with a class action lawsuit.

“I have read the Statement of Claim in the class action, and it strikes me as a strong case,” said Lukács. “An airline cannot go around offering flights and then turn around and walk away from its obligation to passengers. A deal is a deal.”

In closing, I’ll give Twitter the final word:

 

Have you had an encounter or any interactions with Flair Airlines? Send a comment or email live@jbonair.com to share your story. 

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