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Air Canada policy change urged after minor left alone to sleep on airport floor overnight

CBCCBC 27/07/2016 Yvonne Colbert

A Nova Scotia man is calling on Air Canada to improve its policy around transporting minors after his grandson was bumped from a flight while travelling alone and had to sleep on the floor at Toronto's Pearson International Airport.

Two weeks ago, Hayden Levy left Winnipeg after visiting relatives and landed in Toronto for a stopover. The 15-year-old was bumped from his flight to Halifax and spent almost 24 hours on his own at the airport.

"They gave him a $10 food voucher, which basically in the Toronto airport buys you nothing," said Brian Truelove, Levy's grandfather.

When Truelove called Air Canada's customer service line, the airline apologized and gave the young man a $400 voucher toward future travel.

Too young for hotel room, teen told

"I think it's uncalled for," Truelove said. "You do not bump a minor."

Truelove said his grandson slept on the airport floor after being told he could not be given a hotel room because he was a minor. 

"He's too young to put in a hotel room but he's not too young to bump off a flight and leave laying in the international airport on his own," Truelove said.

He said his grandson had a cellphone so he was able to communicate the delay to his mother, who was waiting for him in Halifax.

Not the first time

Truelove is especially concerned given it's not the first time Air Canada has been accused of leaving an unattended minor at an airport.

CBC News reported on a similar situation in 2013, when a 13-year-old boy spent the night unattended in the same airport with a $10 food voucher when bad weather caused a flight cancellation. Other passengers on that flight spent the early morning hours in a hotel.

Truelove said something has to change.

"I can guarantee you it's not going to be the last time it happens — unless they drastically change their policies," he said.

On Wednesday afternoon, Truelove said an Air Canada customer service representative called and said his grandson was actually entitled to $800 in travel vouchers rather than $400.

"I told the girl it's not vouchers I want. I want to see this never to happen again with some other child," he said.

Level-headed but trusting

Truelove said his grandson is familiar with flying and describes him as level-headed but trusting.

"Hayden is the kind of guy who, if someone came up to him that looked official and said, 'We're taking you to a hotel room,' he probably would have went," he said.

"Then we'd have a whole different set of circumstances because we would have a child that was missing."

Air Canada unaware passenger was a minor

Air Canada spokeswoman Isabelle Arthur told CBC News in an email that mechanical problems meant they had to use a smaller plane for the flight to Halifax, causing some passengers to be bumped.

"It is disappointing for us when situations such as this one are brought to our attention," she said. "We regret that we were unable to provide accommodations."

She said there was no indication on the booking file that the passenger was 15 years old, but Truelove said Levy's stepmother had written on his ticket that he was a minor.

Service for unaccompanied minors

"We don't ask for date of birth at time of booking and all tickets being electronic, it is important that the information is captured in the booking file so our agents at the gate have it on their screens when taking care of customers during operational challengers such as delays, cancellations, aircraft changes," Arthur said.

Air Canada offers an unaccompanied-minor service for a fee of $100 plus tax, where staff will escort children and young people from the check-in area to their destination. It is mandatory for children aged eight to 11, and optional for youth aged 12 to 17. It is only available on nonstop flights.

Don't hesitate to speak to agents, says airline

Arthur said the airline's policy around young travellers is clear.

"Even if a parent has not asked for our unaccompanied-minor service, our agents will take care of a child or teenager in need of support," she wrote.

"Once our agents realized he was a teenager, we made arrangements for him on a later [flight] with a relative."

But Truelove disputed that claim, and said his grandson travelled from Toronto to Halifax alone.

Arthur said it's important for parents to make sure the airline has all the necessary information in their files including the age of younger travellers who are travelling alone and emergency contact information.

"Please also reinforce that if at any time they feel they need help or assistance, they should not hesitate and come speak to one of our agents," she said.

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