aircanadaOnce in a blue moon, you come across a hard-luck story with a happy ending that involves an airline doing something nice for a passenger, even though it doesn’t have to. Nancy Pearson’s tale of trying to get to Toronto for a surprise birthday party is one of them.

See, airlines write these dense, often illegible contracts that let them off the hook for just about everything. So when a passenger asks for something, they can point to the fine print and say: “It’s not in there!”

Not this time.

Here’s what happened to Pearson:

On February 11, my son and I drove to Nashville from Memphis, arriving at the airport at 4:30 p.m. Our 6:35 p.m. flight to Toronto was delayed for an hour due to weather so I asked the gate agent if we would make our connection at 11:05 p.m. She assured me that we would be there by 10:15 p.m.

We were not. We taxied 25 minutes after landing, and ran full speed through the airport, arriving at the gate at 11:10 p.m. only to find that our flight was gone. At that time we were issued boarding passes for the 9 a.m. flight leaving the next morning.

I took the boarding passes, put them in my wallet, and before I could turn back around the metal shade was down, the door was locked, and the agent was gone.

We knew at this point were going to miss the surprise birthday party — the purpose of the trip — so we decided to return home and reschedule for a later date. We got to a hotel, which we arranged and paid for, around 12:15 a.m. and I began calling Air Canada immediately.

After being on hold for over one hour I gave up and decided to start calling again the next morning. When I attempted to call, starting at 5 a.m., I could not even get through as the lines were continuously busy. We went back to the airport, changed our ticket, and then waited for 9 1/2 hours to get the flight back to Nashville. We arrived in Nashville 7 p.m. and then drove 200 miles back to Memphis.

Her question: Would Air Canada refund her ticket and hotel expenses?

My answer: If the reason for the delay was weather, probably not. I advised her to check Air Canada’s Transborder Tariff, the legal agreement between her and the airline.

“Do you think they should have at least paid for our hotel and given us some food vouchers for overnight?” she wondered.

“Only if it was a mechanical delay,” I said.

Indeed the contract is clear, stating Air Canada is,

NOT LIABLE WHEN IT CANCELS THE RESERVATION OF A PASSENGER WHENEVER SUCH ACTION IS NECESSARY:

A) TO COMPLY WITH ANY GOVERNMENTAL REGULATION, AND/OR
B) TO COMPLY WITH ANY GOVERNMENTAL REQUEST FOR EMERGENCY TRANSPORTATION IN CONNECTION WITH THE NATIONAL DEFENSE, OR NATURAL DISASTERS, OR
C) WHENEVER SUCH ACTION IS NECESSARY OR ADVISABLE BY REASON OF WEATHER OR OTHER CONDITIONS BEYOND ITS CONTROL (INCLUDING, WITHOUT LIMITATION,
ACTS OF GOD, FORCE MAJEURE, LABOUR DISTURBANCES, STRIKES, CIVIL COMMOTIONS, EMBARGOES, WARS, HOSTILITIES OR DISTURBANCES) ACTUAL, THREATENED OR REPORTED

That didn’t stop Pearson from asking. And I was surprised by Air Canada’s response. It issued a full refund of the unused portion of the fare and paid for her hotel.

Pearson believes the reason is that Air Canada calculated its compensation based on the Canadian contract, which is considerably stricter than the Transborder Tariff. “It is far overdue in the States,” she told me.

I’ll say.

(Photo: a_trotskyite/Flickr Creative Commons)