Air Canada eUpgrades: When Things Don’t Go Your Way

In the current context of travel, we’ve been hearing about many instances of someone with a confirmed eUpgrade to business class being downgraded to premium economy or economy.

It’s important to note that such downgrades are comparatively rare to the number of confirmed eUpgrades that work out. By and large, passengers with a confirmed eUpgrade complete their itinerary in a higher class of service than the one originally booked.

While we’ve touched on this phenomenon in previous articles on eUpgrades, let’s have a closer look at the handful of situations where you might lose your eUpgrade through no fault of your own.

In This Post

When Can You Lose Your eUpgrade?

Before we look at some specific situations, it’s worth reiterating that the only way to really guarantee a seat in business class is to book in business class to begin with.

At the same time, using eUpgrades with Aeroplan points is one of the best ways to avoid nasty dynamic pricing with Air Canada.

We’ve received numerous success stories from readers who either flew in business class for the first time ever, or who saved a tidy sum of Aeroplan points by using eUpgrades with the “Latitude Attitude“.

With the above in mind, let’s look at some of the situations where an eUpgrade might turn into an eDowngrade.

Accommodating a Deadheading Pilot

As with any airline, Air Canada has to shuffle its resources to fulfill operational requirements. One very important consideration is ensuring they have enough pilots to fly the airplanes that we all love to be on.

When on duty, pilots take priority for a business class seat. Note that this same privilege doesn’t extend to when they’re flying for leisure.

Therefore, if Air Canada needs to move a pilot from Toronto to Vancouver so that the pilot can operate a flight based out of Vancouver, the airline will want to ensure that the pilot arrives rested and ready for duty. I’d certainly hope that the person in charge of a gigantic flying tube of metal is well-rested and ready to attend to any matters that arise.

Deadheading pilots get priority for business class space

The exact terms of how pilots are prioritized for business class space are less clear.

We’ve had reports of passengers with confirmed eUpgrades being downgraded to make space for a deadheading pilot. Such a situation would suggest that pilots flying for duty are more-or-less guaranteed a spot in business class, and the airline is generally willing to bump someone else out of the cabin to make room.

From what I’ve gleaned from FlyerTalk forums, deadheading pilots are also prioritized for business class space over anyone who is waitlisted for an eUpgrade at the gate. If there’s space in business class, a pilot is going to have first dibs over anyone else on the waitlist.

When my wife was a flight attendant with Air Canada, she was treated to business class on several occasions when she was deadheading to operate a flight. This wasn’t guaranteed, though, so it is likely the case that pilots have greater priority for business class space over flight attendants.

Irregular Operations

Whenever an airline encounters inclement weather or any other situation that necessitates consolidating passengers into fewer flights, only the passengers who originally booked in business class will be reaccommodated in business class.

If Air Canada is reducing its schedule to relieve the burden on airports, or to otherwise rejig the schedule, you may wind up losing out on the eUpgrade you worked so hard to confirm.

For example, if two flights from Montreal to Calgary are cancelled, Air Canada will need to ensure all of the passengers complete their itineraries in as timely a manner as possible. Furthermore, the airline is required to honour, to the best of their ability, the original class of booking for all of the affected passengers.

In these situations, if you booked in economy and confirmed an eUpgrade prior to your flight, you could be at risk of losing your seat if Air Canada has to make room for passengers who booked in business class to begin with.

Since you originally booked in economy, the airline is only obligated to ensure you complete your journey in economy class. 

So, if you’re travelling during a time when there are many disruptions to travel plans (such as the summer of 2022), you may be at greater risk of losing your eUpgrade.

Aircraft Changes

If the demand for a route is relatively low, or if there are some unexpected mechanical issues with aircraft, Air Canada might consider changing the aircraft it had planned to operate on that particular route. 

Since some aircraft have fewer business class seats than others, you may be at risk of losing your eUpgrade if there are no longer enough seats in the new aircraft to accommodate all passengers on the original aircraft.

Boeing 777s have more business class seats than Boeing 787-8 Dreamliners

For example, there are 40 Signature Class seats on some of Air Canada’s Boeing 777s, while there are only 20 Signature Class seats on Air Canada’s Boeing 787-800s. 

With 50% fewer seats available, in the event of an aircraft change, there aren’t as many seats to reaccommodate passengers on. Therefore, you may at risk of losing your eUpgrade if there’s simply no more space in the cabin.

If you’ve received a notification that your flight has changed, but everything appears to be the same as before, be sure to check the aircraft type, as this is likely the reason for the notification.

You can also set up an alert on ExpertFlyer, which will alert you in the event of an aircraft swap.

Broken Seats

Although rare, any issues with the actual seat you’re in may result in losing your eUpgrade.

With the sheer number of individual moving parts in the Signature Class pods, there are many ways in which a seat might malfunction.

If the cabin is otherwise full, having a seat that isn’t fully safe or functional could result in you being bumped from business class to another class of service.

A broken seat might mean you lose your eUpgrade and wind up in economy

I’m sure that most people would take a slightly-functional business class seat over a middle seat in economy, but I imagine Air Canada’s policy is to remove any risk by just blocking access to the seat completely.

While there may be some other rare situations in which you may encounter an involuntary downgrade after confirming an eUpgrade into business class, the above are the most common reasons that might arise. 

Note that, contrary to popular belief, Air Canada won’t bump a passenger with a confirmed eUpgrade simply to accommodate someone else with higher status. If you’ve played the game and you have a confirmed eUpgrade, you’re not at risk of losing it because someone else wants to sit in your seat.

Air Canada won’t downgrade you to make space for someone with higher status

How To Handle Losing Your eUpgrade

If you are in the unfortunate position of being downgraded, all hope is not necessarily lost.

If you have been downgraded well in advance of your flight on which you had confirmed an eUpgrade, Air Canada will generally rebook you in business class. I wish that I could state this with more certainty, but in the vast majority of cases, you’ll get another seat in business class if there’s one available.

If the rebooking doesn’t suit your needs and you opt to standby for an earlier flight, you’ll generally lose out on this “guarantee.”

Should you be downgraded at the last minute due to flight cancellations, aircraft downgauging, or accommodating deadheading duty pilots, be sure to hang around the gate until the last call.

If you’ve been downgraded, be amongst the last people to board

Oftentimes, passengers may miss connections, and if someone with a seat in business class doesn’t make their flight, you may be able to get yourself back into business class by speaking kindly to the gate agents. If you’ve already boarded the aircraft, you’ve likely given up on this opportunity.

As an absolute last resort, if the cabin door has closed and you notice a few empty seats in a better cabin, kindly approach the cabin crew and explain your situation.

There’s no guarantee, but you may encounter a sympathetic flight attendant or service director who can get you back into the seat you had originally confirmed with an eUpgrade.

Conclusion

eUpgrades are one of the best ways to flex your Aeroplan Elite Status by booking in economy and flying in business class, though they do come with some level of risk. 

There are a handful of relatively rare situations in which you may actually be downgraded to your original class of service, even after confirming an eUpgrade. These include deadheading pilots, aircraft changes, and flight cancellations. 

While you may not have control over these unfortunate situations, you’ll have a better chance of winding up in the cabin that you wanted by refraining from boarding until the last minute.

2 Comments
  1. Timbo2

    Assuming that your eups would be returned in all cases, but please confirm. How long before they would show back up in your account ? Should you decide to rebook, any idea of the allowable travel date range that might apply ?

    1. T.J. YQQ

      Yes, your eUpgrades will be returned. They usually come back fairly quickly, but keep an eye on your account and follow up with Air Canada if you don’t notice them. If you’ve been reaccommodated in business class and you choose to take a different flight, you’re likely to be waitlisted for an upgrade at the gate.

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