Battle heats up between Air Canada, No. 1 customer
Man suing airlines in dispute over flier privileges
Chris Bolin, National Post
Robert Lawrie, an international lawyer, who is Air Canada's biggest customer (most miles flown per year) is suing the airlines, claiming he was unfairly stripped of his Aeroplan frequent-flier privileges.
Air Canada is being sued by its No. 1 customer, who is alleging the airline unfairly stripped him of his Aeroplan frequent-flier privileges, escalating a year-long dispute.
The lawsuit was filed by Robert Lawrie, an international lawyer, who was stripped of his Aeroplan membership and privileges plus his 1.9 million frequent-flier points last fall. The points were reinstated in February, but the airline has refused to reinstate his Aeroplan privileges.
In documents filed in the Ontario Superior Court, Mr. Lawrie claims that he was unfairly stripped of his privileges and was also defamed by Robert Milton, the airline's chief executive. He is asking for a total of $1-million plus legal costs and GST in damages.
An Air Canada spokesman said yesterday in a telephone interview: "We expect this matter will be before the courts [so we are] limiting our comment. In our view, the lawsuit is unfounded and it will be vigorously contested. We find it ironic and puzzling that Mr. Lawrie is suing Air Canada for loss of reputation and embarrassment and at the same time using the National Post to draw attention to his claim."
Mr. Lawrie said his complaints about a run-in with a minor employee one year ago escalated into this dispute after he and Mr. Milton exchanged angry letters.
The airline's stand against Mr. Lawrie was made clear in a National Post article in March, in which an Air Canada official cited a disclaimer from the "member's guide" to Aeroplan: "The [air] miles have no cash value. Abuse of Aeroplan program privileges, failure to follow the rules outlined in the guide, any misrepresentation of information including flight information and any conduct detrimental to the interests of Aeroplan and/or Air Canada may subject the member to cancellation from the program, cancellation of miles or benefits or both without prejudice to Air Canada's other rights and recourses and may expose the member to criminal charges."
Further, it "stipulates Air Canada will be the final authority as to whether an itinerary qualifies under the terms and conditions of the program. Air Canada will be the final authority as to the interpretation of these terms and conditions."
Mr. Lawrie's statement of claim maintains that Air Canada had no grounds to remove him from Aeroplan.
"The Plaintiff [Lawrie] states that the Defendant's revocation of his membership in the Aeroplan program was malicious, callous and high-handed, and was motivated solely by the animus of Robert Milton," says Mr. Lawrie's claim.
"[Mr.] Milton further maliciously interfered in the Plaintiff's contractual relationships between the Plaintiff and Air Canada by causing Air Canada to cancel Lawrie's frequent flier status. [Mr.] Milton's interference was without justification and solely to deny the Plaintiff the privileges that he had earned," claimed the lawsuit.
In a letter sent to Mr. Lawrie earlier this year from Louise-Helen Senecal, Air Canada lawyer, the airline said Mr. Milton did not defame him. "Contrary to your contentions, the representatives of Corporate Security and Aeroplan Compliance did not make any allegation that your conduct was tantamount to fraud or any other statement to that effect," she said. "We therefore do not consider that any apology is warranted."
The next letter from Air Canada's lawyer arrived on Nov. 4 when she slapped his wrist for obtaining from staff an upgrade on a flight to Ottawa on Oct. 29.
"This is by far not the first incident where you attempted to obtain benefits to which you are not entitled by reason of the ticket you are holding," she wrote. "These undeserved benefits in turn allow you to accumulate qualifying mileage, thus granting you Aeroplan Super Elite status to which you would not otherwise be entitled. Please be advised that your Aeroplan account number has been closed, your membership in the Aeroplan Program and your status have been revoked."
He was told to return his card, baggage tags and unused upgrade certificates. She said he could be forced to comply if he did not willingly do so.
Then on Feb. 18, after more correspondence and threats to sue, Mr. Lawrie was eventually given back his points but not privileges.
"The conclusion is that you abused your membership privileges," wrote Ms. Senecal. "Moreover, in your different interactions with members of our staff or of our Senior Management, you systematically spoke negatively about our President and Chief Executive Officer. We will therefore maintain our decision to revoke your Aeroplan Super Elite status and all of the privileges associated therewith."
It concluded with: "This is Air Canada's final position. We will not entertain any verbal or written request to modify it and we reserve the right to disregard any future correspondence or calls from you or on your behalf."