'I expect a seat': Yukon woman buys Air Canada ticket, gets put on standby

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Photo from Shannon Washburn-Hayden via CBC

A Whitehorse-area woman says she'll avoid flying on Air Canada, after being put on standby for a flight on which she had bought a regular-price ticket months earlier.

Shannon Washburn-Hayden said she checked in at an Air Canada counter at Toronto's Pearson International Airport about two hours before her March 27 flight. In Vancouver, she was to meet a connecting flight to Whitehorse.

She had booked the flight in January and paid the regular fare.

But an uncle who was with Washburn-Hayden at the airport noticed some odd tags on her boarding pass and luggage. He asked the Air Canada employee about it.

That's when Washburn-Hayden was told by the airline's counter staff that she hadn't been assigned a seat for the flight to Vancouver, and had been put on standby.

"In my opinion, standby is when you know that you are on standby, and you're aware of this. And I said I wasn't aware I was going to be put on standby — I paid full price and I paid for a seat, so why don't I get one?" she said.

Washburn-Hayden also confronted the departure gate staff when they arrived.

"As people were boarding, I wanted to make sure I was going to be on the flight. And so I just kept going up to the ticket lady and [saying], 'I expect a seat and I don't understand.' 

"And I was pretty sure everybody in the area knew I was placed on standby and that I was not happy about it," she said.

She said she did not hear the gate staff call for volunteers to give up their seat, as often happens when a flight is overbooked.

Washburn-Hayden said she was ultimately given a seat after boarding began, but she's not impressed. 

If she had been bumped to a later flight, she says, she would have been forced to spend the night in Vancouver.

Air Canada spokesperson Angela Mah said in an email to CBC News that standby tickets are generally not issued to customers. But she said if the airline substitutes a smaller aircraft because of mechanical problems or other operational reasons, passengers will be put on standby.

In a second email, Mah said Washburn-Hayden's flight was "extremely full," but did not say if that meant it was overbooked.

After her flight, Washburn-Hayden had a messaging exchange with Air Canada Social Media, in which the airline noted she booked her ticket in Tango class, "where you have to pay a fee to have a seat. If you did not pay for a seat selection," she was told, a seat would be assigned to her at check-in based on availability.

"If I'm not paying for a seat, what am I paying for?" Washburn-Hayden wonders.

In another message she was also reminded checking in online 24 hours prior to departure can help "avoid any seating issues."

She said she has filed a complaint, and was told it will take 25 days to receive a response.