Kelowna woman’s lost passport on Air Canada flight leads to cross-border nightmare

WATCH ABOVE: A Kelowna woman who lost her passport aboard an Air Canada flight thought she would have no problem getting back home. But as Sean O’Shea reports, the assurances of the airline turned out to be anything but reliable.

TORONTO — A Kelowna, B.C. woman who lost her passport on an Air Canada plane was denied boarding a return flight from Philadelphia even though she says she was reassured repeatedly by the airline her return to Canada wouldn’t be a problem.

Laura Stewart went to the U.S. last weekend and was scheduled to return home through Toronto on Thursday. When she realized she had left her passport aboard the flight on Sunday, she says she called the airline repeatedly for direction on what to do.

“They told me no problem, file a police report, bring a copy, they assured me I’d be able to board my return flight to Canada,” said Stewart.

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WATCH: Losing your passport — it’s every traveller’s nightmare. And that’s exactly what happened to a woman from BC. In her case, she remembered where she left it — but that didn’t help very much.

Her husband, Adam Stewart, says he was told the same thing when he queried the airline.

“We talked to them multiple times over three or four days and and were constantly reassured this is how it would work,” he said.

Stewart says she dutifully went to police and obtained a copy of the report, as instructed.

But when she went to board for the flight to Toronto from Philadelphia with the documents and other pieces of government-issued photo identification, she got a shock.

“They refused to let me on. Everything they said on the phone was not true,” she said.

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Stewart was told she would also have to pay almost $500 to re-book her Toronto to Kelowna (via Vancouver) flights because she had missed the initial leg of the trip because of the denial. She rented a car in Philadelphia and decided to make a nine-hour drive to Toronto. That’s when she called Global News.

Peter Fitzpatrick, spokesperson for Air Canada, defended the boarding denial but said the airline would compensate Stewart.

This is his explanation:

  • “Under U.S. law, a Canadian Citizen travelling by air is required to have valid identification to depart the U.S (typically a valid passport or Nexus card). Had Air Canada boarded the passenger without such documentation, we would have been subject to significant fines from the U.S. government. Additionally, there are Canadian requirements for valid identification, and we are subject to further fines if we carry customers to Canada without such identification. Customers are advised on our website to be sure they have the appropriate travel documents. Because of the way airline tickets are priced and sold, customers are required to fly their full itineraries, this is an industry standard. In cases where they do not, there is an extra fee levied. In this particular instance, however, as the customer says she was given incorrect information, we will make an exception and waive the additional fees and pay the cost of the car rental.”

Stewart says an Air Canada representative who called her also promised to cover the cost of a hotel room in Toronto in the event she didn’t arrive in Toronto in time for the flight.

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Stewart says she would have driven to Washington, D.C. to apply for a new Canadian passport but didn’t because of Air Canada’s statements.

As a seasoned traveller, she also carries electronic copies of her birth certificate and of her passport which were not sufficient when she checked in.

Airlines have discretion when it comes to determining how to handle a situation like the one Stewart encountered.

Brad Cicero, director of communications with Porter Airlines, described one scenario where a Canadian could fly home without a passport.

“For example, if the passenger had travelled with us on the first leg of a trip and we validated the passport at that time, it may be possible to get approval for the return flight. Having a photocopy would also be helpful, but wouldn’t be valid on its own,” said Cicero.

When Stewart finally arrived at the Canada-U.S. border at Queenston, Ont. she says she was greeted with warmth by Canadian border authorities, despite having no passport.

“It took 90 seconds,” she said. “I’ve had more questions going over for cross-border shopping.”

She said she showed an electronic copy of her old passport and was on her way. She will spend the night at a hotel near the Toronto airport, at Air Canada’s expense, for a return flight tomorrow.

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Stewart was grateful to Global News for raising the issue with Air Canada and for saving hundreds of dollars in extra fees and being reimbursed for hundreds more in out-of-pocket expenses.

“I’ve had some very positive interactions with some of the senior management team at Air Canada who have apologized for the behaviour of some of their staff,” she said, adding that they had told her that her return trip was not up to their “high standards.”

“I am very pleased with how Air Canada handled the situation, once escalated. There were some very kind people who finally stepped in and helped resolve the situation.”

Stewart says Air Canada has reimbursed her for all costs, but admits she wishes the airline would change its policies so things didn’t have to escalate the way they did.

“I do want to say, that though the overall experience was negative, I did have some positive experiences with some of the Air Canada staff as well, and I don’t want that to go unrecognized,” she said.

“It’s unfortunate that poor service and behaviour from some staff takes away from those who are really trying to make a difference, and yes, there are employees like this at Air Canada, and I’d like to acknowledge their efforts.”

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For more information on the rules that pertain to travel between the U.S. and Canada, check the government’s website.

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