Cheap flight glitch leads to class action against Air Canada

An Air Canada Boeing 777 taking off. Stock photo by Getty Images.

You find a fabulously-priced Air Canada flight package online: 10 one-way business flights for $800. You happily purchase it. Days later, Air Canada notifies you that the flight package is no good because it was supposed to be priced at $8,000 and a computer glitch dropped a zero. What do you do?

Well, some are thinking big legal trouble for Air Canada.

A class action has been filed in British Columbia and Quebec for breach of contract by Air Canada. Garrett Munroe, the West coast lawyer spearheading the legal action, wants courts to compel Air Canada to live up to its originals promise.

It is unclear exactly how many people bought the discounted package between Aug. 25 and Aug. 28 but the number is estimated to be a few thousand.

See: Class actions – starting a lawsuit with others

Air Canada has so far apologized to the customers and has offered a refund. It has cancelled the packages but agreed to honour any flights that have already been booked.

Munroe, however, stresses, “It would create a significant amount of confusion and uncertainty in the marketplace if consumers were conducting business with the possibility that the merchant is going to come back and attempt to undo the deal that it made.

The next step is to have the class action certified. This means Munroe and his team must satisfy courts in British Columbia and Quebec that a class action is the right legal vehicle for this problem.

When it comes to certification, courts will consider a number of factors. These include the type of cause of action alleged (e.g. breach of contract), the existence of common issues for an identifiable class, and the suitability of a representative plaintiff. In Canada, the threshold to certify class actions is not very high, meaning many class actions do get certified.

The class representative is one individual who adequately represents the interests of the entire class. The class representative, therefore, may not have interests that are going to conflict with the interests of the class. The representative must have a legal plan, which is where the lawyers come in, and must inform class members of any progress in the action.

Once certified, most class actions get settled. If no settlement is reached, the class action proceeds to trial.

Air Canada has got itself in a tight spot. Even if it agrees to honour the sold packages going forward, it will not be able to stop the class action because customers have already missed out on planned trips.

It will be interesting to see whether courts will certify the class action because the outcome will likely shake up how big companies advertise “deals” online.

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