Remember the Yangon premium cabin mistake fares from late 2012? For relatively trivial amounts of money one could fly from Yangon to many places in first class and business class for pennies on the dollar. The deal came and went a few times and it was one of the early tests of the DoT rules protecting customers in such scenarios; every ticket to the USA was honored as far as I know, even though some (including mine) were initially cancelled by airlines. Swiss Airlines was on the hook for a number of such tickets sold at the end of September 2012 and has been the subject of numerous complaints brought to the Canadian Transportation Agency (CTA) based on their unwillingness to honor tickets booked between Yangon and Montreal. After much back and forth, appeals and hearings the CTA has issued its ruling: Swiss won.
Unlike the US rules which explicitly state that the airlines cannot say “oops” and claim a fare is a mistake as a basis for not honoring it the Canadian policies are based more on traditional contract law. In the ruling filed Tuesday several references are made to prior cases which have nothing to do with airlines and everything to do with whether the contract can be binding if one party made a mistake and if that mistake is fundamental. Essentially, if the CTA believes that the fare offered was a fundamental mistake then “the contract would be void ab initio as there is no meeting of the minds.”
And it also recognizes that many of the 83 claimants (passengers) covered in the ruling made the same claims heard many times before about mistake fares. These claims include:
- Suggesting that the bloggers didn’t know for certain that these were mistake fares despite the fact that they were publicized as such;
- Noting that the base fare numbers cited by Swiss ignores the all-in pricing which is what passengers actually judge fares on; and,
- Identifying other, similar fares and routes and suggesting that this may have been a similar sale.
The CTA took these ideas under advisement and pretty much kicked them to the curb. Ultimately the CTA found that Swiss was not negligent in allowing the tickets to be sold.
[G]iven that the mistaken fares were approximately one percent of the correct fare, it is clear that Swiss did not intend for the fares to be made available for sale and that their release was indeed a mistake.
Moreover, the CTA found that the purchase pattern overall was indicative of predatory behavior on the part of the passengers.
I’m not a huge fan of anyone suggesting that it is possible to know what is reasonable and what is not in the world of airline pricing, but I suppose there is possibly enough in different areas here such that the claim is reasonable in this particular case.
OK, so if there’s an obvious mistake then the airline can back out of the deal. Surely they cannot do so at any time though, right? Maybe. The CTA did define parameters of what it believes to be reasonable behavior for airlines in such instances:
Essentially a full refund and notification within 72 hours of when the “carrier becomes aware of the publishing of a fare” assuming the trip is more than 72 hours away. There is not a ton of clarity on what becoming aware means in this context. That leaves open the potential for an airline to change their mind at some point well after the ticket was sold should they “become aware” of the mistake made. At least that’s how it reads to me.
There’s more in the ruling (you can get a copy of the PDF here) but the overall sense is that consumers are not protected unconditionally in Canada like they are in the USA.
As an aside, the ruling filed has some interesting insight into the source of the fare: ATPCo apparently wasn’t supposed to file fares from Yangon to Montreal in late September and did anyways at which point they became available for sale:
h/t to The Colonel for sharing the filing this afternoon
- Just how big was Delta’s Boxing Day sale??
- Do airlines need protection from unscrupulous passengers??
- El Al honoring the mistake fare; not much of a surprise
- Is there such a thing as too much consumer protection?
- What is the real impact of 49 CFR 41712 § 399.88(a) for travelers?
- New consumer protections on offer from the DoT
- Thousands and thousands of temples on the plains of Bagan, Burma
- A pilgrimage to Mt. Kyaiktiyo
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