The airline claims to be dealing with ‘hundreds of passengers in need of assistance.’

Diomerys O’Leary was already concerned about allowing her 14-year-old daughter to fly alone to visit her father in the Dominican Republic, but she had no idea Air Canada would dump the child in Canada’s busiest airport after cancelling the final part of her journey home.

On Jan. 18, O’Leary received an email informing her that her daughter Eva’s trip from Toronto’s Pearson International Airport to St. John’s had been cancelled due to a labour disruption at the airport in Newfoundland and Labrador, and had been rescheduled for two days later.

Then followed the anxious messages from her daughter, claiming that Air Canada had informed her she was on her own to locate a place to sleep, eat, and get about.

O’Leary ordered her daughter to return to the Air Canada counter and beg for assistance again, but the child was turned away a second time, according to O’Leary.

“‘What do I do?’ she said, weeping and frantic… I couldn’t believe what I was hearing “Go Public spoke with O’Leary.

“[This] will come as a fairly significant surprise to a lot of adults if they do put their child on a plane… since they might be abandoned under Air Canada’s own guidelines,” said Ian Jack, vice president of public relations of the Canadian Automobile Association.

“You’d think the airlines would have proper protocols in place for this.”

Air Canada, like other airlines such as WestJet and Air Transat, offers a for-fee service subject to specified conditions in which employees assist children travelling on their own. However, that service is not available for multi-leg journeys such as Eva’s.

In those cases, the airline stated in an email that its policy “is to give priority assistance to certain passengers travelling with us, such as disabled, elderly, and young people,” but that day it was dealing with “unexpected and abrupt” flight cancellations and “hundreds of customers requiring assistance.”

‘Worst day of my life,’ O’Leary said, describing how she spent hours on the phone and online attempting to arrange assistance for her daughter while she waited alone at the Toronto airport.

A adolescent under the age of eighteen would not be let into a hotel. She didn’t have any cash and her Apple Pay app wasn’t working, so she couldn’t eat.

O’Leary finally found an Airbnb where Eva could spend the night, booked an Uber to get her there, and had food delivered to her daughter.

She described it as “the worst day of my life.” “I couldn’t sleep that night, even after I accommodated her.”

The next step was to get her daughter back to her house.

After nearly two hours on hold with Air Canada, O’Leary was able to book Eva a trip the next day to Gander, Newfoundland, and then a bus ticket back to St. John’s.

According to Air Canada, a contact centre staff “offered to assist with lodgings, but the customer’s mother rejected.”

However, O’Leary provided a recording of that conversation, and the agent stated that she was unable to assist with accommodations.

Instead, the contact centre representative advised O’Leary Eva to try a different Air Canada desk and to “be a little bit pushy” when requesting assistance for the third time. While on hold waiting to speak with the agent, O’Leary had already rented the Airbnb.

When asked about the disparity, Air Canada stated that the agent attempted to assist by “instructing the mother on how to continue.”

According to Air Canada, it is “usually not suggested” for children to travel alone on connecting or overseas flights “due to the likelihood of unanticipated flight interruptions beyond the airline’s control.”

This caution is not on the airline’s website’s “Children Traveling Alone” section, nor is it stated in the booking.

During the epidemic, air travel has been difficult, with Canadians being advised against non-essential foreign travel and airlines experiencing widespread difficulties.

Despite this, O’Leary insists she has no regrets.

“I went with the first option, which was to fly. After they failed to act, I did everything I could to keep my kid safe.”

She wants Air Canada to assume greater responsibility for youngsters travelling alone on multi-leg trips, or to cease admitting them altogether.

“They are content to take my money but refuse to take responsibility for her safety,” she explained.

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