My Like/HATE Relationship with Air Canada.
There was a time where commercial air travel in Canada was quite good. There were at least 2 or 3 major airlines (Air Canada, Canadian Airlines, etc…), there was great in-flight service, friendly staff, competitive pricing, and everyone’s bags always came out of the baggage chute when their plane arrived.
One time, I had a flight that was delayed 15 or 20 minutes, which was of no consequence to me at all. The next week, I received a letter in the mail from Air Canada apologizing for the delay, and letting me know I had been credited 500 Aeroplan miles for the trouble. Nice touch.
Then, something happened, and the face of the Canadian airline industry took a turn for the worse. Airlines began to go bankrupt, and Canadian Airlines was bought by Air Canada. This left Air Canada, privatized and fresh out of bankruptcy protection, as the dominant force in Northern North American flying. Perhaps they got cocky. Perhaps they just stopped trying because they knew they had no major competition anymore. Maybe there was an actual, legitimate reason to what happened next.
Suddenly, without warning, the complimentary in-flight meals disappeared, and were replaced with miniscule bags of nuts (or something resembling them). Ticket prices doubled, at least. I learned that the dreamy Aeroplan miles that are supposed to accumulate rapidly and fly you everywhere for free, expired if you didn’t use contribute to your totals once a year, and were nearly useless to me; as I am not a frequent traveler. The free headphones to watch movies suddenly had a price tag on them. Bags started not showing up on the carousel; causing major headaches and worry, until they were delivered 1,2,3 or 4 days later, if at all. I almost had to make an insurance claim for my entire bag of hockey gear when I had to miss team practices and was in danger of missing games because my equipment didn’t show up after I flew back to college after Christmas break. Even the demeanor of the attendant staff seemed to drop off. Smiles and assurances of a safe flight were replaced by cranky, angry looking old women informing me that I could NOT have another bag of cookies on the flight, and that I should just go back to my seat and buckle my safety belt.
One time I was delayed over 4 hours in Calgary while trying to catch a connection home. I, and the other plane’s worth of passengers, sat and waited, and waited, asked questions, grew agitated… and waited some more. We eventually learned that the pilot was tired and didn’t want to fly. Then we found out that there was no replacement pilot to finish the trip. It wasn’t the most welcomed message a group full of weary travelers wanted to hear over the airport PA system (you should’ve heard the groans and mutiny plots after that one). We were finally allowed to board the plane well after midnight. One may think that boarding a plane means that the flight would be taking place. In this situation, they would be wrong. We sat in our assigned seats for at least another hour, while more maintenance and de-icing were performed. Eventually we did take off, and we arrived home nearly 6 hours later than we were scheduled to.
I figured that if they rewarded me 500 miles for a 15 minute delay before, I must be in store for something substantial this time. So again I waited, and waited…and waited. No mail. No letters. No bonus miles. Not even a sorry. So, I wrote my own letter to them instead. I told my story, laid it out respectfully but firmly, and awaited a response. Sometime later, I received a reply. Air Canada was indeed sorry for the situation, but regretted to inform me that everything was part of routine and policy ( or something to that tune), and that there would be no compensation of any sort. Huh???
Since then, a magical little company named Westjet emerged, offering cheap flights, comfy, leather (?) chairs with TV’s built into the back of them, and a friendly attendant staff that oddly seems to enjoy their jobs, and is able to make passengers enjoy their flights. It was a huge breath of fresh air. It must have rattled Air Canada. Westjet began to increase their presence across the country, and all of a sudden, Air Canada recognized they had better play catch-up. Not run-past-and-beat mind you, just simply catch-up. All of a sudden, SOME Air Canada flights had TV’s in the back of chairs. The LONG flights started offering meals again, and SOME of the attendant staff seemed a little nicer. You absolutely must take an
intercontinental flight on Air Canada now (Boeing 767, and 777’s), just to walk past first-class and see what they get. There are, literally, cubicles for each seat, with footrests, and a whole pile of unnecessary things that only high tax-brackets can afford.
I will give Air Canada some credit though, even through their stubborn policies of luggage weight, quantity and size, they recently waived at least $500 worth of charges for my wife and I for extra baggage and over-weight penalties on an inter-continental flight. They did make us repack four suitcases and redistribute the same amount of weight however, but hey, I’ll take it. Incredibly, all 5 bags showed up when we got off the plane.
It’s still a far cry from what you’d find on Thai Air (oddly, they are members of the same Star Alliance), that offers free everything, all the time, whenever you want it, friendly staff that bow to you as you arrive and leave, and gets your bags out when you arrive at your destination. Also, Horizon/Alaska Air offers a free ticket to anywhere in North America if you offer to bump yourself off an overbooked flight and take a later plane (Thanks for sponsoring my honeymoon, guys). Tough to compete with I guess, but I think I see a glimmer of an effort somewhere deep down.
I still would choose any other airline if I could, but Air Canada seems to have a headlock of a monopoly over some major destinations still. Nearly immediate failure of upstart competition doesn’t help either, but obviously someone recognizes there’s a problem and is trying to offer a solution. With any luck, the big-wigs will fly to Ottawa on private Air Canada jets, and ask for a bailout sometime soon.