Air Canada Offering Protection From Weather Delays (For a Fee)

It’s been awhile since I broke out the gold star award. I thought about it yesterday with Delta’s new seat, but that’s still a couple years off from being anything tangible. But when I saw Air Canada’s new On My Way service, I thought it was immediately useful and definitely worthy of a gold star.

goldstarSo, what is this On My Way thing? Well, it’s pretty simple. As you probably know, if your flight is delayed or canceled due to a mechanical issue or something else within an airline’s control, the airline will do a lot to get you out of town. If there are not flights available on that airline in the near future, they’ll put you on another airline. If they can’t get you out that day, you’ll get a hotel and meals. Pretty good, right?

Unfortunately, if you’re stuck with the common “uncontrollable delay” like weather or air traffic control, the airline generally does nothing for you. Sure, they’ll put you on another flight on that airline but that’s about it. Air Canada has been no different from everyone else in this regard, but now they’ve done something crazy.

They’ll treat uncontrollable delays like ones within their control if you’re willing to pay for it.

Here’s how it works. For $25 each way on itineraries of less than 1,000 miles and $35 each way on itineraries over 1,000 miles (in North America only), you can get that coverage. But for that fee, you won’t have to stand in line for hours to get help. You’ll get access to dedicated agents in the Air Canada call center to actually help you with your arrangements. Looking at the list of airlines on which they’ll rebook you, it appears they have pretty strong coverage. All the US legacy airlines, Alaska/Horizon, and WestJet are covered along with a few other small Canadian airlines.

The beauty of this is that it’s a great service for passengers even if it just ends up being peace-of-mind, but it’s also a good deal for Air Canada. Though they won’t know what percent of people that buy the service actually need to use it until they give it a few months, you have to assume that the bean counters did their homework here. They should be able to make money on this deal. It’s a win-win situation, assuming enough people buy it that don’t actually need to use it.

So would you buy it? For me, it’s entirely dependent upon the trip circumstances. If I have an important meeting, I’d absolutely buy it for the outbound flight. For the return? Only if I had to be home for work or something. But either way, it’s a really nice option to have and it can help take a lot of stress out of what has become a naturally stressful situation for a lot of people. For that, Air Canada gets a gold star.

18 Responses to Air Canada Offering Protection From Weather Delays (For a Fee)

  1. zoeoeha says:

    This is brilliant. It’s such a simple idea, but it makes a huge difference to know that you won’t be stranded somewhere due to unavoidable delays.

  2. I think this is a great idea, although it is another example of the al la carting and differentiation of air travel going on.

    One thing I don’t get is this is only for Canadian and US to Canadian flights. So why is there a huge list of International airlines, many of which only fly TATL or TPTL from North America?

  3. Might be worth it for important trips, but if there are weather and/or traffic delays, I wonder how effective they could be in getting you on another flight. After all, those things SHOULD be impacting all the airlines.

  4. CF says:

    Nicholas – Something tells me that they’re using that chart for other purposes unrelated to this one. It clearly says on the page that it’s only on North American airlines.

    Greg – You’re right. Weather could impact other airlines, but at least in that case they’ll put you up in a hotel and give you meals. You’ll earn your $25 to $35 very quickly in that way.

  5. Nick says:

    In response to the ‘a la carte’ issue, I think this is different. AC is selling a service they didn’t offer before, not selling you something you used to get for free.

    Of course, that’s only true if program doesn’t deteriorate benefits for non-paying customers, AC elites for example. AC’s “more info” table (http://www.aircanada.com/shared/en/aco/onmyway/benefit.html) suggests regular travelers get “very limited” rebookings on other airlines and “limited” hotel provision when the the airline is at fault. I’ve not flown with AC, but my experience with other carriers is that these services (especially a hotel for an overnight delay) are pretty standard. So again, if AC cuts back on options for customers who don’t buy “on my way”, then I’m not sure how to determine the net benefit.

    Also, this will make people happy only if the system really works. For example in a weather delay its frustrating to be stranded, but most people know they’re not entitled to much. If a passenger has paid $35 for this service, calls AC during a weather delay, waits on hold, and then gets through only to be told that other airlines have grounded their flights, too (Greg’s point), then I can see that person getting really upset. It’s interesting idea, but how good it is depends on how it plays out.

  6. CF says:

    Nick – I agree, but I think that may just be a very liberal interpretation of existing policies to make this new one look ever better. We’ll see.

    I also agree that execution is key here. While most people know they aren’t entitled to much, that doesn’t stop them from thinking they should be entitled to more. If someone pays for this service, at the very least they’ll walk away with a hotel room and meal vouchers. It may not be ideal, but it’s still far better than what the regular passenger will get.

  7. Cranky,
    I initially thought that that chart was just for North Americans as well, but if you look at the URL: http://www.aircanada.com/shared/en/aco/onmyway/airlines.html it is clearly specifically for On My Way

  8. CF, you’re right about the execution being key. It would be great if they can change up the execution to make it even easier for the business traveler, e.g. we’ll pay your hotel stay without a voucher, just check in, the hotels already have support for this. (e.g. Orbitz low rate pricing/priceline/etc) If they could do the same with car rentals that would be great as well. You could also let the meal piece of things be taken care of via reimbursement versus a meal voucher.

    Doing all of these would take out or at least reduce the whole waiting in line at the airport thing which so many people hate.

  9. CF says:

    That would be a better program, Nicholas, but it would be more costly by far. Airlines have special low negotiated rates with hotels, so they’re going to want to use them. And I believe car rentals are generally left out due to liability issues.

  10. Cranky,
    Hmm, what about the prepaid, we make your reservation system precludes using the low-negotiated rates? I’m only saying they could get rid of the voucher and just drop a prepaid reservation into the hotel’s system.

    I only added car rentals in because Air Canada mentions them.. I’d expect there would be some sort of credit card backup on the car rental system..

  11. CF says:

    Nicholas – It’s always a possibility. I’m not sure what AC has up their sleeves for this, but since it is happening over the phone, maybe vouchers will disappear.

  12. Rory says:

    This really is a winning idea, and how often can we say that about airline innovations these days. Not everybody needs this kind of service, but having the option could be lifesaver.

    As Nick mentioned, it’s nice to see airlines adding additional services for once, instead of charging for existing ones. If this works out practically, I can certainly see it catching on.

  13. Anon Coward says:

    Interesting gamble, I think I might do it if I was flying someplace where weather would be an issue, or I was on a very tight timeline, otherwise not. They should not force people to do it ahead of time but should offer it at the time of the weather delay. “You can wait for our next flight Tuesday, or for an additional 50 bucks now we will send you over to US Airways” or whatever. But you get your 50 bucks back if US Airways doesn’t fly.

  14. CF says:

    Anon – That would definitely be ideal for the customer, but then it’s going to be a losing proposition for the airline. They need to be able to make money on this as well or it won’t work.

  15. Hmm… I wonder how they skirt this so they’re not going to tangle with the insurance regulators.. Because really that is what this is..

  16. Mark says:

    CF has this one spot on. As opposed to the consumer blogs and Boing Boing. They are all ridiculing this move. Typical.

    What they are not saying, is no airline (that I know of) has ever reimbursed, re-booked or done anything for the average traveler in the case of UNCONTROLLABLE delays. They (the blogs) just don’t get the difference (or refuse to get the difference) between uncontrollable and controllable delays.

    Air Canada is becoming a world-class airline ala Singapore, Emirates etc. This is just more proof that they think out of the box and for their customers.

  17. Chris M. Dickson says:

    Like everyone else said, this is really, really good. I hope it becomes best practice and spreads across the industry. There’s no reason why it shouldn’t, and there could be some entertaining viewing, watching the odds on offer fluctuate over time.

    I worry about the low-cost airlines driving the full-service airlines out, or at least down to low-cost practices, simply because it’s reassuring to have the knowledge that the full-service airlines are big enough to be able to be flexible should mishap occur. I’m much less concerned about the existence of à la carte service offerings when this is one of the services on offer. Fingers crossed that the low-cost airlines follow suit; at least Ryanair has a senior employee who is known to be famously gambly, and they have kicked around the in-air gambling concept in the past, so letting people back against themselves delivering the goods ought to appeal to their sense of fun.

  18. Pingback: View from the Wing » Blog Archive » Air Canada’s Irregular Operations Insurance: A Clever Gimmick and a Bad Deal

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