Yellowknife woman sours on Air Canada after being removed from plane in Vancouver

Rachel Tambour-Zoe, left, and travelling companion Alyssa Cochrane are all smiles taking a WestJet flight home on the weekend after they were booted from an Air Canada flight. (Photo courtesy of Rachael Tambour-Zoe)

A Yellowknife woman is crying foul against Air Canada after she says she feels she was discriminated against due to her Indigenous race when she was removed from a Vancouver to Yellowknife flight last Friday.

Rachel Tambour-Zoe tells CKLB that she thought she had paid $150 each to upgrade her seat and and another passenger’s to business class.

But she says when she tried to indicate that to the flight attendant the attendant essentially indicated to her that she likely couldn’t afford the higher priced seats.

“We talked to the flight attendants and they were rude right from the get-go.  She said no ma’am you didn’t pay for these seats. These seats are 400 or 500 dollars,” Tambour-Zoe said. “I said I have the money to pay for them. So right there she discriminated against me.  I said I wanted my money back. I wasn’t yelling or swearing.”

She says she felt that the attendant was indicating to her, as an Indigenous woman, that she couldn’t afford such an upgrade.

Tambour-Zoe says it wasn’t so much what the flight attendant said as it was how she said it that left her feeling demeaned and degraded.

Tambour-Zoe, the education and mentorship co-ordinator for the Yellowknives Dene First Nation (YKDFN), was returning to Yellowknife after escorting ten teenagers on a week-long tour of post-secondary institutions in B.C.

She says at least some of the kids were traumatized after watching her and their only other chaperone being told to leave the flight.

Tambour-Zoe says she hasn’t had a drink in 17 years so alcohol was not a factor in the dispute.

She adds that the kids they were escorting were between 15 and 19 years old.

“Had I said I was travelling with these kids – they would have got kicked off too,” Tambour-Zoe said. “My youth were traumatized.”

She adds that after the poor experience with Air Canada, she and her colleague flew home on a WestJet flight.

She says she is looking for financial compensation from Air Canada and expects to file a human rights complaint.

CKLB also reached out to Air Canada.

This is what Debra Williams, Manager of Corporate Communications for Air Canada’s Jazz Aviation, had to say about the incident.

“During the boarding of this flight from Vancouver to Yellowknife, a passenger became verbally abusive to the boarding agents. Once onboard,  the situation continued and the passenger insisted to be placed in the Business cabin, however, the tickets and boarding cards indicated preferred seats within the Economy cabin (row #14),” Williams stated in an email to CKLB.  “Efforts by our agent and crew to explain and de-escalate the situation were unfortunately unsuccessful.  For the comfort and safety of other customers and crew, the decision was finally taken to remove the disruptive customer from the aircraft.”

Tambour-Zoe insists she was not being disruptive.

She adds that the trip started out on a sour note when one of the students forgot his identification, couldn’t got on the flight and would have been charged full fare to take a later flight.

Tambour-Zoe says they couldn’t afford that and the youth didn’t make the trip.





About the Author

John McFadden
John has been in the broadcast journalism industry since the 1980s. He has been a reporter in Yellowknife since 2012 and joined CKLB in January of 2018. John covers the crime and court beat as well as reporting on other areas including politics, business, entertainment and sports. He won seven national community newspaper awards while he was a journalist with Northern News Services Limited (NNSL). John worked in Ontario before coming North including stints as a TV sportscaster in Peterborough and senior news writer for CBC and CTV in downtown Toronto.