Like millions of other married women, I still have the name I was born with. It doesn’t seem fair to me that women are supposed to give up their names while men aren’t expected to change a thing, so I opted out of the system. That choice saved me some time waiting in line at the Social Security office and Department of Motor Vehicles a couple decades ago, but now it could lose me and my “call me Ms.” sisters some cash and keep us off Air Canada planes.
The airline lets people give their travel vouchers to family members, which means that even if they can’t use it, they don’t have to forfeit the voucher — they can send a relative in their stead, but only if they have the same last name. If they don’t, Air Canada will screw people right out of the money they paid for tickets they can’t use. Same-sex couples who don’t have the same last names are in the same non-traveling boat.
Air Canada claims that it’s same-name or no-go policy prevents fraud, but that isn’t much of an excuse: West Jet, United, and U.S. Airways all let people give their vouchers to anyone they want, whatever their names, and have managed to avoid being beggared by rampant fraud.
This silliness came to light when Air Canada wouldn’t allow Chris Turner, whose wife didn’t change her last name to his, to transfer a travel voucher to her. Turner earned his voucher by agreeing to be bumped from a flight and take a later one instead. He may have done that with the intention of getting a free flight for his wife, which would have been easy-peasy if only she had changed her name. He then resorted to that great arbiter of justice, Twitter.
Air Canada defended its policy on Twitter, saying that Turner could buy his wife a ticket (which assumes he had that amount of cash available), then submit a reimbursement request. Having had my share of airline problems — lost luggage, cancelled flights — I can say with some authority that the appropriate response to that is a wry guffaw. Airlines have elevated obstructionist bureaucracy to Kafkaesque heights (or Dickensian, or that of Terry Gilliamian or Milan Kunderian). Based on my experience, it would be a long, long time before Turner ever saw that money again, and if he isn’t a persevering sort, the reimbursement might never materialize.
Turner and his wife both sent Air Canada unflattering open letters of 140 characters or fewer. The little lady (aka @Hilksom) pointed out that the policy doesn’t serve its ostensible purpose of preventing fraud: “Sooooo… Turner can transfer the voucher to our NEIGHBOUR Kelly who has the same last name, but not his WIFE. Gotcha.” Turner himself griped, “those of us who are not married to June Cleaver find this deeply insulting.”
I am not married to June Cleaver, and I am indeed deeply insulted.
Air Canada appears to be folding in the face of reason and decency. Turner told the Twitterverse that the airline was transferring his voucher to his differently-named wife and is considering changing the policy for everyone, tweeter or not.
Turnergate hurt Air Canada in the public eye, but changing its policy will hurt it in the wallet. Limiting voucher transfers to people with the same last names means that some number of vouchers went unredeemed, when the people who earned them couldn’t use them and couldn’t transfer them to someone with their last name. If passengers can transfer vouchers to anyone, more of them will be redeemed, which means Air Canada will have to provide value for them.
Too bad. It is not okay to profit off the backs of people who wouldn’t knuckle under to a hoary custom born of misogyny, or of the people who married us. Air Canada, please do catch up with the 21st century. I look forward to hearing about your new egalitarian policy for exploiting your customers.
Photo credit: Wikipedia