Air Canada Must Pay for AI Chatbot’s False Info


Air Canada has been ordered to compensate a passenger for false information given by Air Canada's AI chatbot. As anyone who's experimented with ChatGPT and its competitors knows, AI chatbots sometimes make up facts and give false information. Take, for example the case of ChatGPT putting law professor Jonathan Turley's name on a list of law professors who had sexually harassed someone, citing a Washington Post article about a class trip to Alaska. Except that the supposed article didn't exist, there's never been a class trip to Alaska, and Turley maintains he's never been accused of harassing a student. Sometimes ChatGPT lies.

But if a company is going to use a chatbot to field customer questions, shouldn't a customer be able to rely on the chatbot answers? That's what prompted Air Canada passenger Jake Moffatt to take Air Canada to small claims court, after Moffatt relied on Air Canada's chatbot, booked flights, but didn't receive the refund he expected.

In response to his query on bereavement fares, Air Canada's chatbox replied “Air Canada offers reduced bereavement fares if you need to travel because of an imminent death or a death in your immediate family. If you need to travel immediately or have already travelled and would like to submit your ticket for a reduced bereavement rate, kindly do so within 90 days of the date your ticket was issued by completing our Ticket Refund Application form.” 

Based on that advice, Moffatt, on November 11, booked a one-way flight from Vancouver to Toronto for $794.98 and a separate return flight for $845.38. Also on November 11, Moffatt spoke to an Air Canada representative by telephone about bereavement rates to determine what the discount may be, and wwas told the fare for each flight would be approximately $380. There was no evidence the Air Canada representative told Mr. Moffatt about whether or not they could retroactively apply for bereavement rates. Following his November 12 and November 16 flights, he submitted the bereavement claim on November 17. 

Air Canada responded that it did not provide discounts once travel has already been completed, and that in the first sentence of the chatbot's response, “bereavement” was hyperlinked to an Air Canada webpage that states that the airline's bereavement policy does not apply to requests for bereavement consideration after travel has been completed. Air Canada did not, however, explain the discrepancy between the linked information and the contradictory information about using a ticket refund application form to apply for a reduced bereavement fare within 90 days of the date of ticket issue.

In his plea, Mr. Moffatt argued that he would not have flown last-minute if he knew he would have to pay the full fare, which the court found credible given his actions investigating the options for bereavement fares and applying for a partial refund in line with the chatbot’s information.

The court found against Air Canada:

“Air Canada argues it cannot be held liable for information provided by one of its agents, servants, or representatives – including a chatbot. It does not explain why it believes that is the case. In effect, Air Canada suggests the chatbot is a separate legal entity that is responsible for its own actions . . . a chatbot . . . is still just a part of Air Canada’s website. It should be obvious to Air Canada that it is responsible for all the information on its website. It makes no difference whether the information comes from a static page or a chatbot.”

Let's hope other companies take note and more extensively test their chatbots and other AI for accuracy before deploying them. And in the meantime? Be sure to take screenshots of any information you rely on.

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