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ASK JOURNEYS: Don't mess with Air Canada's check-in times

Posted: 04/20/2013 1:00 AM | Comments: 0

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Ten days ago, a new check-in policy was announced by Air Canada that travellers should be aware of; especially those who like to shrink their check-in time as closely as possible to their departure schedule.

Baggage acceptance will close 45 minutes prior to departure. The same policy applies to those only with carry-on bags, unless they have checked in online or with a mobile device beforehand.

The advice that used to be given was to arrive at the airport at least three hours ahead of time. This policy may be the future reality as other airlines follow with similar requirements.

Interestingly, the last couple of weeks have had readers complaining about other Air Canada issues that tend to annoy travellers.

QUESTION: When I recently checked in at the airport for an Air Canada flight, I was told that all the seats were already taken because they had overbooked the aircraft.

Then, after I expressed my concern, the agent informed me that even though I had a ticket for the flight, I was not guaranteed a seat on the aircraft.

I was astounded at the coldness of the response, but I was likewise overwhelmed by the concept that I would not be able to get on the flight I had booked quite some time ago.

The agent even appeared to be scolding me as she informed me that I should have paid extra to gain a guaranteed seat.

Can they do this? I actually did get on the flight in the end but wonder if the airline is allowed to do this?

ANSWER: The IATA (International Air Transport Association) agreements the world's airlines have gotten governments to buy into are heavily weighted in the air carrier's favour.

In circumstances like yours, what the airlines do in practice is ask for volunteers to give up their seats in return for future air credits in addition to costs that may be incurred for meals or overnight expenses before they can be placed on a future flight.

If no one stands up to take the offer, you will be provided the same offer, and to my knowledge will have no choice but to accept it.

What astounds me, and I hope it is only one renegade ticket agent on Air Canada's staff, is that you would be reprimanded for not paying extra to secure a seat.

Choosing your seat ahead of time is yet one more of the many auxiliary fees airlines have concocted to help turn red into black on their bottom-line financial statements.

There was a period when the practice of overbooking had become less pervasive. It is the full-fare passengers on regularly scheduled airlines that have the right to book their flight and have no obligation to inform the carrier when they fail to show up.

Let us hope we are not returning to the days when it seemed every second flight was calling for passengers to accept the airline's offer to stay behind. Each one of these overbooked flights seems to invariable result in the very delays that a recent CBC television program unearthed.

QUESTION: For the most part I am a loyal Air Canada traveller.

Over the past months I have felt that their flights are constantly leaving late or arriving well past the stated arrival times on the schedule. It has become quite frustrating. I now find it necessary to frequently check ahead of time to find out how much my flight will be delayed.

Am I being unfair or is there something more to this?

ANSWER: While I think it is wise for all of us to check our flight departures and arrivals ahead of time online, your observations are accurate.

It was on the recent above-mentioned CBC Marketplace program where it was revealed Air Canada actually has the worst on-time performance, as measured against the other international airline carriers.

They reported that almost 40 per cent of Air Canada flights were late, the worst on-time performance record of the 28 international carriers that were measured by the research group, FlightStats.

While weather and international connections can sometimes play a part in flight delays, compared to Japan Airlines' 90 per cent on-time arrivals, Air Canada has some serious work to do in addressing this problem.

The Air Canada numbers are certainly impacted heavily by the worst of their flight patterns between Toronto and Vancouver, where only 55 per cent of the flights arrive on time.

QUESTION: What is the situation with the Florida law that demanded visitors have an international driving permit when renting an automobile in the state?

ANSWER: While it was perhaps enacted with the best of intentions, the Florida law that required visitors to carry an international driving permit was likely one of the biggest PR blunders the state launched in recent times.

Even after they reported they would be repealing the law, there were fears that insurance companies might follow the law to the letter and not cover those who were in automobile mishaps without the international permit.

We can all relax now as the law, according to recent reports, has been repealed, much to the relief of tourist officials throughout the state.

Forward your travel questions to askjourneys@journeystravel.com. Ron Pradinuk is president of Journeys Travel & Leisure SuperCentre and can be heard Sundays at noon on CJOB. Previous columns and tips can be found at www.journeystravelgear.com or read Ron's travel blog at www.thattravelguy.ca.

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition April 20, 2013 D2

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