Flights in and out of Canada can be expensive for regular flyers, and travelers will often shop around online to make sure they are getting the best deal for their money. Although bargains can occasionally be found via a third party, it is usually recommended to book directly with the airline carrier to avoid any issues. Unfortunately, one flyer learned that the hard way and ended up with an Air Canada "No-Fly" ban and $18K fine.
That's right, Air Canada, one of the country’s biggest airline companies, has issued one of their travelers with a flight ban and a fee upwards of $18,600 after she says she mistakenly bought multiple fraudulent Air Canada tickets over a period of a year and a half.
In an attempt to find discounted flights, 25-year-old Ann Qian who lives in Ontario, searched on the popular Chinese social media app ‘WeChat’ and found the user ‘CaptainCooll’. The seller claimed to be an employee of Air Canada with special access to cheaper tickets that were up to 50% off regular price.
Qian said she bought tickets from this account three times and paid the user more than $5,800 for the ‘special’ deals, which included offers on business class seats. On all three occasions she flew to her intended destinations with no problems at all.
Quin says that she had no knowledge that the transactions were fraudulent until she was stopped in Toronto’s Pearson airport when boarding her fourth flight. She was told she was on a ‘no-fly’ list and was not allowed to use her ticket. She contacted the online seller to demand a refund and was swiftly deleted and blocked by the fraudster.
It transpired that the ‘WeChat’ seller had been using a stolen credit card to book and pay for Air Canada flights under the names of the unsuspecting bargain-hunters. The seller would then pocket their discounted flight payments. Qian contacted Toronto police earlier this year, in an attempt to locate the seller and recuperate her lost funds for the fourth flight and a pre-booked fifth flight to Shanghai.
Despite her own personal financial losses, Air Canada has said she owes them $18,683.66 in charges for the fraudulent flights she took, which is way more than the total that she had paid for the flights already.
According to CBC News, the airline’s legal representative sent an email to Qian refusing to lift the travel ban due to her naivety when booking the fraudulent tickets "without a modicum of verification. With due respect, this is akin to buying a television set in a bar."
However, Canadians are stepping in to defend Qian. Gabor Lukacs, who is an air passenger rights activist, said that Air Canada does not have the right to ban Qian from flying with them “just because they have a [financial] dispute with a person”. He added "it took Air Canada more than a year to detect the fraud. So how could they possibly expect the customer to know right away?"
Many Canadians online also agree, that Qian isn't entirely at fault.
Air Canada has rejected mediation, and the dispute is expected to be taken to the Canadian Transport Agency for a final decision.