The strange world of holiday travel

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This is the beginning of the high season for travel, as schools empty for the Summer and families plan vacations at home and abroad. Many of these will make use of national and international airlines to carry them safely to their holiday destinations. For those of you who travel by air on a relatively regular basis, it may come as something of a surprise to hear that Air Canada was named Best Airline in North America for the third consecutive year and recognized for the world’s Best Business Class Lounge Dining, Best Airline Staff in Canada, Best Business Class in North America and Best Airline Cabin Cleanliness in North America at the 2019 Skytrax World Airline Awards ceremony held at the International Paris Air Show. It is the eighth time in the past ten years the carrier was selected as the Best in North America by the World Airline Awards, which are based on passenger satisfaction surveys of more than 21 million global travellers.

Personally, I was totally gobsmacked by the announcement. Just a few weeks ago, I missed a connecting flight to Dublin because my Air Canada flight from Ottawa to Toronto (officially just a 50-minute journey) had arrived 40 minutes late. A few weeks later, I was able to read about the astonishing travel adventures of Tiffani Adams, who also travelled to Toronto with Air Canada. She had fallen asleep on the plane during her flight, and woke up to find herself alone in the dark. It seems the crew had disembarked without noticing her asleep in her seat.

The aircraft was sitting out on the parking apron in Toronto, and Tiffani was unable to contact anyone for help, until she managed to open one of the doors. Too far above the ground to jump out, she finally managed to get the attention of some ground crew, who rescued her. Air Canada had no comment about how the passenger had been left behind on an empty airplane, but promised that: “We’ll take a look into it.”

I have become used to having my baggage arrive in a different city from me. In the past few years, my luggage and I were separated on more than one third of the flights to Europe. The best (?) time was when I arrived in Dublin, via St. John, New Brunswick, and my suitcase arrived in Frankfurt, Germany. With great care, Air Canada took care of the problem by sending my luggage back to Toronto, a city that had not actually been included in my travel itinerary. After a few days, I was reunited with my clean clothes in time for us all to fly back to Canada, together at last.

While most of us can hope to avoid Tiffani’s experience, and even to arrive on time to our destinations, luggage in hand, it will not be cheap to get there. Flights in Canada are notoriously expensive, compared to other countries, and Air Canada leads the way in that regard. A recent survey found that the cheapest available Air Canada return fare from Montreal to Vancouver on 1-8 September this year will cost $759; for just $79 more on the same dates, one could fly from Montreal to Paris instead. Meanwhile, a direct US flight from New York City to Los Angeles costs a mere $344.

Partly as a result of high prices in Canada, according to the Conference Board of Canada, five million Canadians a year cross the border on land to fly out of US airports. And it is the Canadian Government that is helping to keep the situation as it is. They tack on various costs to the average ticket, including security costs and airport improvement fees, adding around $30 – $60 to the cost of a ticket. The Government has allowed consolidation of airlines, decreasing competition and thereby keeping prices high. Air Canada and Westjet together control 82% of domestic air travel. The Government has resisted allowing foreign airline access to Canadian airports, most of which the Government owns and leases to airport authorities.

Now Air Canada has bought out Air Transat, one of the very few Canadian alternatives to the two main carriers, and a way to get around at a lower cost. As one report noted: “The deal puts Air Canada in a position to further control pricing, though analysts say it’s difficult to predict whether fares will actually increase”. Anyone care to take a wager on that?

So, as you plan your Summer vacation, think about these things. As my wife and I have often said as we watched our flight leave without us, albeit through gritted teeth: “It’s all part of the adventure”.

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