Family booted off Air Canada flight now calling for changes

By Pat Taney

Dr. Mehdi Asghari, a Canadian citizen who was born in Iran, is on a mission to fight what he calls an injustice after a recent planned flight — a fight he believes impacts several travellers who may run into the same issue his family encountered after they were denied boarding on an Air Canada flight.

The family had bought tickets back in February to return to Iran for a wedding this past August, a trip they’ve done several times in the past without issue.

But when they went to board the flight at the Toronto Pearson International Airport, they were turned away by an Air Canada boarding agent over a passport issue.

“We were told the Iranian passport my daughter had did not match the name on the boarding pass.”

But her Canadian passport did. According to Air Canada’s rules, only one passport must match the name on the boarding pass.

Their daughter, who is 12, was born in the U.S. and at that time Asghari and his wife chose a new name for her.

“We chose a Western family name because we knew that she was going to live in Canada,” he said. “That name is what’s on her Canadian passport and it’s what we use to travel.”

They also applied for her to get an Iranian passport so they could travel there to see family.

“That passport is simply used in lieu of a visa, it’s a document that simply shows we can legally enter Iran,” he explained.

However, according to Iranian rules, a child’s passport must have the father’s last name.

“No Western names,” Asghari said. “So that is why she has two passports with two different names.”

Asghari points out that this is not uncommon.

“Many people, born outside of Canada, may have another name on their original country of birth passport whether it be a child or someone who married here and took another last name.”

However, the boarding agent said because the daughter’s name on the Iranian passport did not match the ticket, the family could not board the plane and they were turned away at the gate.

“This makes no sense,” Asghari said. “Air Canada states one passport must match – my daughter has her Canadian passport which matched the ticket. As for the Iranian passport, everything else matched, date of birth, picture, only the name was different.”

CityNews reached out to Air Canada for a response and was told the decision, made by the boarding agent, was due to concern over the Iranian passport.

“The Iranian passport did not match the name of the purchased ticket and the customer must use that to enter the country,” a spokesperson told us by email.

We then asked whether this rule would impact other people who travel with two passports that don’t match.

“We are specifically speaking of Iran here, and Iranian-Canadians,” the spokesperson said. “There are specific rules set by Iran that we must follow. I cannot comment on other cases as every country may be different. You must understand too, entry rules are not our rules they are set by foreign governments and we are obligated to follow them.”

The spokesperson added the airline could face steep financial penalties if a passenger they allow to fly doesn’t have the correct documents. Air Canada was concerned that because her Iranian passport did not match the ticket the daughter would be turned away in Iran.

But Asghari says his family has travelled to Iran in the past without issue.

“How can it be okay those times and not now?” he asked. “Nobody knows the answer.”

Asghari has filed a complaint with the Canadian Transportation Agency (CTA) which is investigating and he has reason to hope.

In 2019 the agency ruled in favor of a woman who also had two passports with two different names and was denied boarding on another airline. In that case, Joanna Meyer had a French passport and a Canadian passport. Her Canadian passport had a different name than what was on her ticket. Wow Air refused to transport her from Tel-Aviv to Canada saying an Electronic Travel Authorization (eTA) was required on the ground because her Canadian passport was different from the name on her ticket. Meyer claimed since she holds Canadian citizenship she did not need an eTA. The CTA agreed after looking into the claim.

“The Agency finds that Wow Air applied terms and conditions that are not set out in its Tariff when it refused to transport,” reads the decision.

The tariff, a long list of rules set out by each airline, is the contract between the airline and the customer. An agreed set of rules each must abide by.

We searched through Air Canada’s tariff and were unable to find anything that specifically singles out Iranian Canadians as needing both passports to match the ticket.

According to Air Canada’s international tariff, passengers need “one government-issued photo identification that shows the passenger’s name, date of birth and gender or two pieces of positive government-issued identification at least one of which shows his or her name, date of birth and gender.”

When we asked Air Canada if we misread the tariff and to send us the directive from Iran which they told us they must follow regarding the passport issue, we were sent screenshots of a travel advisory from the Government of Canada which recommends travellers avoid going there due to security issues.

Asghari argues that this does not forbid his family from travelling there as they understand the risk.

“We have family there and were born there,” he said. “So are they saying they refused to board us due to that advisory? If so, that’s not what the boarding agent told us, we were told this had to do with the Iranian passport not matching.”

Air Canada did respond to Asghari’s complaint by offering him a credit for future travel but he says it’s of no help.

“We want to go to Iran but we cannot with this document according to them.”

He’s considering filing a lawsuit in small claims court as he waits for a decision from the CTA.

A CTA spokesperson declined to comment citing the complaint that’s been filed.

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