Changing plane tickets due to illness: St. Hubert man says Air Canada agent was "cold, insensitive"

A St. Hubert man says Air Canada should review its sensitivity training for employees after he claims his parents were poorly treated when dealing with an employee for their request for ticket changes because of illness. 

Jeff Powell said his mother was on the phone back and forth with Air Canada last month trying to cancel or transfer plane tickets for their annual visit to Montreal from California after her husband had a diagnosis for esophageal cancer that had spread to his lymph nodes which required emergency surgery.  

Powell said his mother told him the agent said the only way they'd get a refund was if someone was imminently dying and asked her point blank,"Is he dying right now?"

Powell said his mother told him the agent's tone was very cold.

"That kind of set her back a bit, and then she said, Well, no, and he said, Well, then he can fly,"  said Powell who contacted

"She felt it was really cold, unfeeling, insensitive."

Powell said his mother "was treated, in my view, harshly by Air Canada representatives."

Powell said they were offered a voucher to be used within a year of the purchase date but that it would be useless for his parents because of the chemo sessions, more surgery and recovery his stepfather would need in the next year.

Powell said his parents had partial purchase insurance on their credit card but added this would be a cautionary tale for others to purchase additional insurance in case of illness, "because this kind of stuff can happen, when you least expect it and when you're least prepared for it."

Air Canada said "while protecting the privacy of our customer, we can confirm our agent clearly explained in a very professional manner the procedures to follow in the event of sickness or if someone passes away. These options range from deferred travelling to a full refund, based on a doctor's evaluation and certificate."

"We understand how difficult it is for family members going through such sad events. We take the time to carefully asses each case individually and be following up with this customer," said spokesperson Isabelle Arthur in an email to CJAD 800 News.

While Powell doesn't agree with the policy of not being able to transfer the tickets to other family members, he said Air Canada and other businesses can do more in terms of sensitivity training.

"Trying to figure out more sensitive ways of dealing with these sensitive topics," said Powell.

"It just seemed not the best way to handle the situation."