Transferable airline vouchers are the sort of thing most people rarely even think about, let alone get worked up over, and yet they became the focus of a heated Twitter campaign on New Years Eve. On Dec. 31, a traveler discovered that Air Canada was instituting a voucher policy that probably wasn’t intended as sexist and discriminatory but, at the end of the day, was both. After incurring the wrath of many irate tweeters, Air Canada agreed to change its policy.
It all started when a man named Chris Turner tried to transfer a flight voucher to his wife. The problem, insofar as the airline saw it, was that Turner’s wife kept her maiden name when they got married. Because Air Canada’s policy stated that flight vouchers can only be transferred between individuals with the same last name, they wouldn’t let Turner give the transfer to his wife. Rather, they’d require her to purchase a separate ticket, then apply for a refund later via mail using the original voucher.
The airline’s explanation was that they had this policy in order to prevent fraud, and to its credit, that’s probably true. The problem is, it inadvertently resulted in discrimination against couples who retain their maiden names, and wives who refuse to take their husbands' names.
This includes people who do this out of professional consideration, were required to do so by law (people who got married in Quebec, for example), or simply people who recognize that automatically replacing a woman’s last name with her husband’s is an archaic, sexist tradition, one that implies ownership and domination and an inherent inequality in the partnership.
In addition, the policy also had the side effect of allowing transfers between non-related people who do happen to share the last name, which further highlighted its absurdity.
Other airlines, such as WestJet, gleefully chimed in that they didn’t have a discriminatory voucher policy. Once the controversy was given a hashtag (#SurnameGate) and had thus hit peak outrage, Air Canada announced that it would be replacing vouchers with gift cards, thus eliminating the discrepancy.