Air Canada is placing a woman on a “no-fly list” after discovering that she flew on tickets that were bought using a stolen credit card. The only way for her to get off that list: Repay over $18,600 for the return flights already flown between Toronto, Vancouver and Shanghai. All dollar figures in this article are Canadian.
A victim of fraud
According to CBC, Ann Qian came to Canada from Shanghai two years ago to train as a pastry chef. To book her travel, she made use of the popular Chinese app called WeChat. The app allowed her to find cheap flights to visit her sister in Vancouver, as well as her parents in China.
A seller on WeChat with the username “CaptainCooll” said that they had access to “Air Canada employee discount” tickets. Due to the plausibility of the story and an official-looking graphic promoting a “Hot Sale” with up to 50% off, Qian says that the she didn’t realize she was buying from a fraudster.
In reality, the scam artist was booking the airline seats on behalf of the client, but using a stolen credit card. The client would then pay the “discount fare”, which would go directly into the pocket of the fraudster.
She became a repeat customer with “CaptainCooll”, flying three times with Air Canada over the span of a year and a half without any issues. Qian says her total payments to “CaptainCooll” amounted to $5,800 for the flights, including “deals” on business class seats.
Air Canada’s punishment
In November 2018, when Qian was about to catch another flight from Toronto’s Pearson airport, Air Canada would not let her proceed. Boarding was denied and she was informed that she had been placed on Air Canada’s “no fly” list. The flight she was about to board, in addition to a pre-booked flight to Shanghai, had cost her $3,600. Qian discusses her situation with CBC:
“I’m so shocked why I’m on that list … so worried. It makes me very stressed…They say I’m a liar, but they just don’t want to know the details. They just [want] me to pay the money.”
According to TheCells Magazine, Qian confronted the fraudster on WeChat, demanding her money back. In response, the user blocked her and was never heard from again. Qian reportedly contacted Toronto police in April after failing to find the fraudster.
In a letter sent to Qian, Air Canada is insisting that she owes $18,683.66 for the fraudulent flights taken and gave her 45 days to make the payment. The November letter also accused Qian of “prohibited conduct” under the airline’s tariff rule covering “any unusual hazard or risk … to property.”
Air Canada’s response
Air Canada’s legal representative is rejecting Qian’s request to lift the travel ban. According to CBC, the airline’s legal representative says that the purchase was made “without a modicum of verification. With due respect, this is akin to buying a television set in a bar.”
The two sides: a summary of the situation
On Qian’s side:
- Three flights took place over the span of a year and half without issue. Why didn’t the airline catch the issue sooner?
- Air Canada’s “buying a TV in a bar” analogy seems out of date in a world where peer to peer marketplaces (Facebook marketplace, Craigslist, Gumtree) are becoming more prevalent, with millions of legitimate transactions happening everyday.
- Furthermore, Air Canada’s other remark regarding “without a modicum of verification” seems extreme. Is it possible they fail to recognize the cultural legitimacy that WeChat has in Chinese society? The app is widely used by many large companies in China.
From Air Canada’s perspective:
- Qian claims that the seller’s reason for the low price was that the tickets were through an employee discount. It is common practice that employee discount tickets aren’t for resale.
- Also knowing that scams are fairly prevalent in China as well as on Chinese apps such as WeChat, Qian could have done more to verify the legitimacy of the seller.
- Air Canada must draw a hard line and set a precedent with this situation to prevent a similar situation from happening again – placing the onus on the customer to do thorough research on “good deals”.
Air Canada has rejected mediation. Instead, the dispute will be go to arbitration with the Canadian Transportation Agency – an official department of the Canadian federal government.
A request for comment was made by the CBC. However, an Air Canada spokesperson would not comment on the case. Instead the airline suggested that customers protect themselves by only buying tickets through an official travel agent or directly from the airline’s website and call centre.
What do you think about all this? Is Air Canada being unnecessarily harsh with this woman? Or should she have known better?