CPAir 4 life
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Air Canada's No.1 Customer In The News Again

Sat May 27, 2000 6:08 am

Battle heats up between Air Canada, No. 1 customer
Man suing airlines in dispute over flier privileges

Diane Francis
Financial Post

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."

Posts: 4993
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RE: Air Canada's No.1 Customer In The News Again

Sat May 27, 2000 6:14 am

That is rather funny!  

Jeremiah Teahan
Goodbye SR-LX MD-11 / 6th of March 1991 to the 31st of October 2004
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Joined: Thu Dec 02, 1999 7:28 am

RE: Air Canada's No.1 Customer In The News Again

Sat May 27, 2000 6:18 am

It is about time that an airline took action towards the abusive behavior of an elite flyer. I hope that this sends a message to other abusive elite flyers that it is a privilege to belong to such programs and not a right as most seem to think. I applaud Air Canada for their actions.
PRINAIR : Puerto Rico International Airlines
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RE: Air Canada's No.1 Customer In The News Again

Sat May 27, 2000 6:37 am

Mr. Lawrie is a LAWYER. Scumbags of the earth. Enough said. Hats off to AC! has many forums. It has spell check and search functions. Use them before posting!
CPAir 4 life
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RE: Air Canada's No.1 Customer In The News Again

Sat May 27, 2000 6:47 am

I was interested in this story because I have never heard of an airline laying down the law with a very frequent flyer. Usually Airlines just kiss the ground they walk on, and give them whatever they want.

Does anyone know of other airlines that have done this in the past or present?
Samurai 777
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Joined: Thu Jan 27, 2000 2:56 pm

RE: Air Canada's No.1 Customer In The News Again

Sat May 27, 2000 6:57 am

Frankly, this lawyer is not supposed to deal with a large airline like Air Canada in that manner. He could've just simply sent a letter of complaint to the airline about his dispute with the minor employee and left it at that. But no, he had to take that holier-than-thou attitude. He also should've at least used those points to fly once in a while rather than keep on collecting them, as he apparently never really seemed to used them! Lawrie deserves to be punished by AC, because he did abuse the Super Elite status and the Aeroplan points system and that he did not cooperate very well with Robert Milton and airline as a whole.
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Joined: Tue Jul 06, 1999 10:52 am

RE: Air Canada's No.1 Customer In The News Again

Sat May 27, 2000 11:41 am

I agree with the above posts. I also believe Mr. Lawry was quite wrong in demanding cash payment for points earlier on when all FFP's are strictly "no cash value." They are rewards, but they are not some given right equivalent to money value.

The other thing I don't get is if he's so upset, why did he wait so many months to go to court? What is going on here? I just don't get it, you'd think a lawyer would be more jumpy to use court action if he thought he could win. Is there some dark force using him for negative publicity against AC? OK, I doubt that somewhat, but what is it?

RE: Air Canada's No.1 Customer In The News Again

Sun May 28, 2000 1:39 am


i am following this with quite a bit of interest....

I can say that i have read between the lines at the beginning of this dispute and i question seriously whether AC had in any way a "private" link to service the needs of their number 1 customer or perhaps their top 5.

before this article broke the first time, I know that an "individual" for the last qualifying period earned about 600,000 miles qualifying which was likely Mr. Lawrie. (it takes 100,000 for Super Elite)

1.9 million miles is an accumulation of all other aeroplan partners, previous mileage, etc.

so.... we are dealing with AC's number 1 customer.... PERIOD! There is no one higher than him.... PERIOD!

I am amazed that after all this time of Mr. Lawrie flying AC, something at AC broke down in the service of there number 1 customer and admitedly, egos started flaring between both parties and this is the problem that excists today.

regardless of what people think of Mr. Lawrie's profession.... That same profession at AC is finding anyway they can to remove Mr. Lawrie and protect the airline just like he is trying to protect his rights.

Yes... it is something of a priveldge that he has.... but guess what.... he has EARNED IT.... and it is a right under normal business practices.

AC and all these other airlines that operate FFP have written the rules decidely in their favour.... in fact, clearly in their favour.

here is a question.... If AC claims that there is no cash value assighned to FF points, then why should AC earn revenue from partners to belong to the program?

Hypothetically, for CP Hotels to belong to the program, there could be an annual fee from AC of 2 million dollars.... SPECIFICALLY RELATED TO DISTRIBUTION OF POINTS TO MEMBERS FOR.... guess what.... FREE FLIGHTS.

Another way to look at this is the cost of operating Aeroplan....

If Aeroplan shut down tomorrow.... no cost associated any longer to distribute that program.... and all things remaining equal.... how would this effect the cost of tickets in the future.... lets face it.... one would expect a change. (I have heard that the true cost to manage programs such as this is VERY VERY high.)

Through the cost of a ticket, we are paying for the program which subsequently is distributed into points, which I HAVE PAYED FOR.

There is no cash value because they say there isn't.... they can say anything they want.... AC is not answerable to ANYONE on this matter. "If you don't like the program rules.... don't join"

I read an article in the Wall Street Journal about two years ago about Delta's most frequent flyer which was over 1 million qualifying miles and this individual had the following:

A private link to a Delta Vice-President
Full airport escort by Delta airport management. (wherever he may be)
Very clear understanding throughout the Delta system who this individual is
There was other stuff but i can't quite remember off hand....

There was a picture of him in the Journal showing his "gifts" recieved over the years which included:

A Delta Captains hat (in a glass case)
a very expensive looking telescope (brass and glass)
a Delta First Class seat (which he was sitting in)

anyway, i find that AC did not have a suitable process in place to manage their number 1 customer.... because lets face it, do not most businesses find ways to satisfy their top customer privately?

I am glad that this is in the news because i am not going to pre-judge Mr. Lawrie or AC as clearly the facts are not available to us, but as an individual with a level of status similar to Mr. Lawrie with AC, if this can happen to him and escalate the way it did.... it can happen to me and all of my peers.

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