Air Canada has billed a passenger who verbally abused its employees $1,350 for delaying an overseas flight by 27 minutes.
Airline industry experts are calling the move surprising. Usually, it's passengers going after the airline, said longtime industry analyst Joseph D'Cruz, a professor at the Rotman School of Management at the University of Toronto.
"This is a strange area because it is not covered by under the Warsaw Convention, which is the international convention covering the liability of airlines and how much a passenger can sue an airline," D'Cruz said.
"The convention is actually silent on whether and how an airline can sue a passenger for behaviour which harms the commercial interests of the airline, so this will fall under civil litigation."
Gus Fuentes was in the correct row but wrong seat of a plane that had not yet left London, England, for Toronto on March 15 when he got in an argument with Air Canada staff who had asked him to move.
In an interview last night, Fuentes, a 26-year-old financial services representative in Toronto, said: "I'm not going to pay a cent. I don't care if they take this to a collection agency."
Fuentes said he wants to appeal and is looking for a lawyer.
"The biggest mistake I made was asking for an apology from the flight attendant who swore at me and asking for her name.
"I just wanted her name so I could report her when I landed in Toronto," he said.
He said he feels Air Canada doesn't take responsibility for the treatment of passengers.
"They will never admit that they were wrong, so I won't pay, but money is not the issue," Fuentes said.
He read from a March 22 letter from Air Canada's legal branch stating that he must pay the $1,350 by certified cheque or bank draft by April 5.
After he was kicked off the plane, Fuentes lodged a complaint with the Canadian Transportation Agency about his treatment.
But in a decision released last week, the CTA said Air Canada acted within its rights.
It noted that two other passengers gave Air Canada written statements that Fuentes was verbally abusive and swore at the staff, who responded professionally and calmly. He denied those claims.
A supervisor contacted the captain, who arranged for Fuentes to be escorted from the plane by airport police.
Air Canada spokesman Peter Fitzpatrick said the $1,350 tab is based on the cost of overtime for flight crew, extra baggage handling and various other unspecified expenses.
"It's not a fine," Fitzpatrick said. "We can't fine people. We're a company. But it's standard practice in the airline industry in cases where people deliberately delay a flight that we will seek compensation because it is causing us damages. It is very costly to delay a plane."
He said Air Canada has in the past billed passengers for lost business but wouldn't go into specifics. Fitzpatrick did, however, note other airlines that have gone after passengers for air-rage incidents.
He pointed to the case of Swedish fashion model Marzena Kamizela, who was fined $10,000 by a Canadian court and ordered to pay $18,490 to British Airways for causing a disruption on a flight from Stockholm to New York earlier this year.
The flight had to land in Happy Valley-Goose Bay, Nfld.
Earlier this month, a drunken passenger cost Canadian-owned Zoom airlines about $200,000 in landing fees and refuelling charges after a pilot was forced to turn a transatlantic flight around and have him arrested.
The case was pursued in the courts.
That passenger admitted to disorderly conduct, placing others in a state of fear and alarm, and breach of peace.
He was ordered to do 240 hours of community service.
Karl Moore, an industry analyst at Desautels Faculty of Management at McGill University in Montreal, called the latest situation "an unusual circumstance."
Air Canada shares fell Monday after the country's largest airline issued a surprise preliminary profit warning that it will record a loss in the first quarter.
A new airline is set to turn the sleepy airport on Toronto Island into a regional hub over the protests of local residents and the opposition of Mayor David Miller.
Estimates are that Very Light Jets will cost $1.5 million to $2.4 million, substantially less than the current fleet of business jets.
Air Canada, and its regional subsidiary Jazz Airlines, would see costs of some $57 million a year.