Air line customers deserve better treatment - passenger bill of rights sounds flash, trendy and very liberal.

Rivers 100x100By Ray Rivers

September 8th, 2017



It’s not like they need the money. Canada’s airline industry has never looked better financially. So why do they book more passengers on flights than they have seats. And more often than not, somebody ends up being bumped – having to give up his/her seat either voluntarily or by force. It is only fair and reasonable to expect that once you’ve bought a ticket and hold a reserved seat, you have a legal contract with the airline.

It’s just greed. Once all the seats are taken and fares paid, overbooking is just plain old double dipping – collecting the airfare twice on the same seat. And the airline just hopes that the overbooked will not show up for their flights. And when they don’t make it, the airline gets two tickets for one seat – not a bad deal for them.


Removing a passenger from an aircraft because she would not give up her seat.

And yes, sometimes the airlines offer to compensate those willing to be bumped and who have agreed to take another flight – but if you are heading to a wedding, or a conference where you’re speaking, or even a holiday with booked rental car and hotels… well that may not be possible, at least not without a lot of extra bother and expense. So what happens when there are no volunteers and not enough seats? And whatever happened to stand-by?

And sometimes the airlines don’t even offer compensation. I was on a flight to Whitehorse when an attendant came to my seat and demanded I get off the flight and catch another one. I could have argued with her but I didn’t relish the thought of being dragged out of the plane by my heels. They did eventually give me a discount coupon for my trouble, after I had complained vigorously later, but I shouldn’t have had to go through all of that.

airport passenger line up

Passengers lined up fora flight – the air line business has been more profitable than ever.

So it is a good thing that the government is doing something. They are introducing a so-called passenger’s bill of rights. And the government is also using that opportunity to allow foreigners to buy up more of our Canadian owned airlines – up to 49%. One might wonder how that has anything to do with passenger rights anyway. And why an industry rolling in cash needs more foreign ownership to share it with.

Greater foreign ownership will come with a price, even though 51% control will rest with Canadians. More American ownership, the most likely scenario, would herald more flights through their US ‘hubs’, you can bet, to improve profitability. Unlike Canada which is a virtual string of population east to west, the US airline industry finds it more efficient to shuffle widely dispersed passengers from their departing cities through their various airline hubs. Trying to get from Buffalo to a Latin American destination once had me flying to Boston, back to Chicago and then to Houston and changing airlines twice before getting to my last stop.

air canada in flight

Up, up and away for passengers booked.

So expect more Canadian flights going from Halifax to Toronto via Boston and so on. Don’t forget your passport and be prepared to face that lovely full-body search a couple more times, even if you are technically in transit. I’ve been there, trust me. And it may cost you a little less up front for all the aggravation. Then, what are the dangers of broadening foreign ownership as we navigate the current re-invention of NAFTA?

Canada’s airlines have always been pretty much regulated and the industry has always amounted to not much more than a monopoly-and-a-half (Air Canada and Canadian Airlines/West Jet), excepting the tour flights and bush pilots. The Mulroney government, back in the ‘80s decided to open the industry up to competition by partially deregulating, hoping more carriers would enter the market to reduce passenger fares and improve service. But after this attempt at deregulation the industry was still a monopoly-and-a-half.

A West Jet flight over Montreal

The legislative changes also cover aspects governing efficiency and safety for rail services, speeds up responses to complaints by airline passengers and ensures that parents can sit next to their children on a flight. Perhaps the final version can mandate better seat belt security for children as well.

Calling this an airline passenger’s bill of rights sounds flash, trendy and very liberal, but it is a long time coming given what has been happening in other western nations. And given that air travel in this country is a largely regulated natural monopoly, it is unfortunate that regulators had not acted on this years ago.

Ray Rivers

Ray Rivers

Ray Rivers writes weekly on both federal and provincial politics, applying his more than 25 years as a federal bureaucrat to his thinking.  Rivers was a candidate for provincial office in Burlington in 1995.  He was the founder of the Burlington citizen committee on sustainability at a time when climate warming was a hotly debated subject.     Tweet @rayzrivers



Background links:

Bill Of Rights –

Bill C-49 – 

More Bill or Rights –   Child Airline Seats –   Air Canada Finances –   More Air Canada

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2 comments to Air line customers deserve better treatment – passenger bill of rights sounds flash, trendy and very liberal.

  • Bill Boyd

    And, Ray, what of the, call’em, “collateral effects” on what might just come to be known as “Canadian” airlines of the nastiness going on in DC with regard to the U.S.’s FAA: privatization of a good number, if not all air-traffic controllers…for starters?

    You know how those American capitalists are: Once you let them in the door, you need more than a boot to get rid of ’em.

    Bill (down in the “good” ol’ USA)

  • Lonely Taxpayer

    With the new Bill of Flight Rights – once a passenger makes a complaint against the airline – nothing stops the airline blocking that passenger from ever being able to purchase a ticket (a contract of carriage) again.

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