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 

Air Passenger Rights offers suggestions, advice for holding airline accountable

UPDATED: Sept. 6, 2019- Canadian Transportation Agency determines Flair ‘does not wish to participate in the informal process’ to resolve complaint after months of ignoring CTA correspondence

UPDATED: Nov. 15, 2019- After formal complaint filed with Canadian Transportation Agency, Flair agrees to compensate following months of ignored requests for facilitation through CTA process

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.”

UPDATE: Nov. 15, 2019- Still refusing to be screwed over by Flair, I escalated my concern to the Canadian Transportation Agency. I provided all of the necessary information and waited a few weeks to hear back. I was contacted on July 26 by a representative who would be handling the case.

She advised me that she would keep me up to date and said in an email, “At this time Flair Airlines is currently reviewing all the complaints before them and so we will need to wait for Flair Airlines to provide the documents that have been requested before we can assess the next steps.”

I was persistent in my followup, wanting to know how long Flair would be given and what the estimated turnaround time would be. None was given though I was assured the case would not be forgotten.

My emails to the CTA agent continued until we finally had a phone call and she later put in writing the outcome: “Despite our efforts to facilitate your complaint, it would appear that Flair Airlines does not wish to participate in the informal process.  As such, we are unable to facilitate your complaint at this level.” In short, Flair wouldn’t respond to her and thumbed its nose that the complaint. She wouldn’t go on the record saying that, but that’s what she said.

I had two options at that point: Mediation or adjudication. I chose adjudication.

On Sept. 6, I received confirmation that my case would go to the adjudication group to file a formal complaint. Fast forward two months (Nov. 6) when I again had to submit all documents and records I had. This included emails, screen shots, audio recordings and receipts. I clearly stated that I wanted compensation for having to re-book more expensive flights with other airlines.

It was Nov. 15 when the secretariat from CTA (Government of Canada) replied to me and copied the higher-ups at Flair to ensure everybody received all documents I submitted when pleading my case. Flair’s legal counsel replied within eight minutes of receiving the files and noted, “I hope we can work to resolve this.” He confirmed the amount of compensation I was requesting.

Five hours later, I received an email from “Complaints” (complaints@flyflair.com) stating, “We have been authorized to pay you … compensation requested to settle this matter on a without prejudice basis” — adding, “We sincerely apologize for any inconvenience caused to you.”

After months of fighting and Flair deciding they wouldn’t entertain my complaint, it took involving a federal government agency to finally get paid for my disastrous travel plans from April.

I realize most people would think about the situation and say, “Meh, it was only a few hundred bucks and an inconvenience for a few days” and brush it off. To me, it was more than that. It was proving a point that a company is not more powerful than the customer. I’m not easily intimidated, nor will I quietly go away if I’m screwed over.

I’m fortunate to have radio and newspaper platforms where I can share my story and try to assist others if they don’t know how to handle a situation. I’m doing this as a public service because others should know they don’t have to take being bullied by a company that screws over customers and thinks it doesn’t have to play by the rules.

All these months later, I see how Flair has scaled back its routes. It’s not flying to as many places as before. The company made headlines when one of its business relationships went south (even though the airline doesn’t fly south anymore!) because of unpaid bills, prompting a court order that could have seen Flair’s operations shut down.

For the months of hassle and back-and-forth headache, having the airline seemingly admit to wrongdoing and agree to pay a customer when it first stood firmly against coughing up the cash, is a victory no matter how small it might seem.

Whether Flair had to pay me $20 or $20,000 to settle the score, the consumer won the battle and wouldn’t be pushed around by a law-breaking company. And that, my friends, is priceless.

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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