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Air Canada passenger sues after seat-bumping dispute

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Royal Jordanian Airlines Airbus A320-232; JY-AYU@TXL;13.04.2013/704bg

A Waverley, N.S., man has taken Air Canada to small claims court after he says the country’s largest passenger airline refused to compensate him when he was bumped from a flight last month.

Dan Lachance sometimes flies to other cities to teach computer classes to corporate clients. In early February, he was bumped from a flight in Vancouver while on the way from Halifax to Whitehorse.

He and another passenger had tickets for the same seat. Lachance was told he had to wait for the next Air Canada flight to Whitehorse, which wasn’t for another eight hours. 

He arrived in Whitehorse just before midnight — a total travel time of 24 hours from Halifax.

"Exhausted, tired," Lachance said. "I had hoped to make contact with who I was doing work with in Whitehorse that afternoon, but that had to wait to early the next morning instead."

According to Air Canada’s tariff, it must pay a passenger $800 if they are bumped for more than six hours. The airline, however, refused to pay.

Lachance decided to take Air Canada to small claims court and served them with papers on Tuesday. The next day, he said he got a call from the airline, which offered to pay him.

"It's not about the money," Lachance said. "It's just really to make the point of having felt deceived where Air Canada in my view didn't do the right thing."

Gabor Lukacs is a passenger rights activist who says the initial refusal to pay is part of a pattern. "I believe that there is a very strong financial incentive for airlines to find various excuses to disobey the rules," he said.

For its part, Air Canada says "the issue at hand is not about denied boarding." The airline said in a statement the problem was caused by “miscommunicated seat assignments due to operational constraints,” flight delays and tight connections.

"These situations are always unfortunate and we always take the time to investigate any complaint thoroughly so that we implement corrective measures if necessary as we strive to always offer the best customer service possible," Air Canada spokeswoman Isabelle Arthur said in an email.

"We will communicate with our customer to resolve the issue and will inform him of the outcome directly."