A small dog and his owners were denied boarding on an Air Canada flight from Quebec City to Toronto in April even though the Shih Tzu was less than half the maximum weight allowed by the airline.
Kristina Botticchio has travelled on multiple occasions with Whisky, a fully-grown 8.5-pound dog. Most recently, she flew with her husband, family members and Whisky, to Quebec aboard WestJet. That trip went ahead without incident.
She says she has frequently flown with her dog on other airlines, including Air Canada, without incident.
But after arriving at Quebec City’s airport, an Air Canada service agent and a manager refused to allow the dog, or her owners, to board a return flight to Toronto. Botticchio had paid a fee so her dog could sit underneath the seat in front of hers.
“He said it was inhumane,” she said, describing the justification for denied boarding at the airport.
Air Canada, contacted by Global News, admitted it did not allow the dog or its owner aboard.
“We were unable to allow the customer to travel with her dog in the cabin because the dog was too large for the carrier,” said Air Canada spokesperson Peter Fitzpatrick in an email statement.
Botticchio says the denial came as a surprise since she was using an approved, soft pet carrying device, and the size recommended by the manufacturer for her dog’s height and weight.
When she and her husband could not fly home, she said they were forced to rent a car, at an additional expense, and make the eight-hour drive from Quebec to Toronto in poor weather.
“This makes me suspect that actually the flight was overbooked and Air Canada was just looking for an excuse for getting a few passengers off,” said Gabor Lukacs, who operates Air Passenger Rights in Halifax.
“They (Air Canada) are entitled to set requirements for carriage of pets, but once those requirements are in place, they must honour them,” Lukacs added.
The agent had told Whisky’s owners he was too large for the carrier, however, the dog’s weight was well within the limit set out in the airline’s tariff. The rules state the animal and the carrier cannot exceed 22 pounds total.
Air Canada further stipulates that dogs must be able to stand up and turn around within the carrier. Global News observed that Whisky was able to do both within the carrier, which must fit under the seat.
“They have no lawful excuse for denying them transportation so they should pay them,” said Lukacs, adding that denied boarding compensation is $800 for each passenger.
While so far Air Canada has not decided to pay any compensation, it has now agreed to credit back the value of the two flights that could not be taken as a result of the denial. This happened after Global News was contacted.
Even so, Botticchio-who is familiar with the airline industry’s regulations- is reluctant to fly with her pet in the future.
“I’m afraid now, I don’t know if I would fly again; [it] should be one uniform policy.”
–With files from Megan King