Something Isn’t Right

The leader of the Official Oppositions says it feels like Canada is broken, and the federal government is to blame. Needless to say, the Prime Minister disagrees.

When does a feeling become a reality? Whether Canada is “broken” or not, I don’t think it is hard to find many people who feel that it is. Things just don’t function as well as they did in 2019, and the perception is that it isn’t just the pandemic that is responsible.

Take our air travel system for example. I wrote a bit about it last year, nowhere near as much as I wanted to. Flying in Canada is akin to torture for many people. In 2022 I took two trips. On the first one my luggage arrived home a day later than I did.

Having learned my lesson, I didn’t check any bags on on the second flight, so my luggage wasn’t delayed. But my six-hour trip took 16 hours – and I was one of the lucky travelers.

The media were filled with horror stories throughout the year. Airport, airline and government officials assured us they were making things better. Government ministers have a habit of taking to Twitter and announcing a particular situation is “unacceptable,” as if that will solve the problem. They said the travel chaos would not happen again, that they would take steps to fix the problems. Then came the Christmas season.

On the day after Christmas, thousands of Canadians were still trying to get home to celebrate with family. On New Year’s Day many of those whose flights had left Canada were struggling to return home.

Unlike the airport chaos earlier in the year, this time it wasn’t completely the government’s fault. Can’t blame the government for the weather.

I’m sure government policies were been mildly contributory as airports and the airline industry have been slow recovering from the COVID-19 pandemic.

This Christmas though, weather may have been the biggest factor, with major winter storms shutting Vancouver airport for a couple of days, then other airports also suffering from winter weather that saw flights delayed and cancelled. And let’s not talk about lost luggage.

One of the big issues is that there are fewer flights than there were three years ago. The government cancelled all international routes except for four airports. In Ottawa, at least, those routes have not returned. Which means to fly overseas you must first fly to Montreal or Toronto. Which increases the risk of delays and cancellations.

Fewer flights mean that the airlines have fewer options when they are trying to help travelers whose flights have been cancelled. Full planes are better for their bottom line, but they didn’t allow for a Canadian winter. Which has thousands of people saying they will never fly again with the airlines in question.

Making matters worse, customer service seems to have vanished with the cancelled flights.

Air Canada, for example, shut down its customer phone line over the holidays. The recording stated that due to high volume and long wait times they weren’t taking calls. Callers were directed to the “useful on-line self-help tools.”

Which weren’t helpful at all for the problem I was trying to deal with. And the web page’s chat bot said if a customer needed help they should call the number that wasn’t being answered. 

Appeals to customer service on Twitter were ignored – but I expected that. I have seen how Air Canada ignores Twitter users in the past. Or customers in general.

That’s the disadvantage of moving in such a large country with a relatively small population. The airlines have us captive. If you want to get from Toronto to Vancouver you have to fly, unless you have a car and five days to spare to drive. I suppose you could make the drive in three days but your fatigue level might be extreme. And the cost of gas and acccomodations will probably be more than the overpriced airline ticket.

I miss being in Europe, where you could go anywhere by train. And, because of population density, there were several budget airlines competing for your business. In 2022 I flew from Frankfurt to London for about $100 Canadian. I don’t think I can get a bus ticket to Montreal from Ottawa for that price. Certainly not a train ticket.

It wasn’t like this in 2019. There were always delays and some cancellations, but never en masse like we have seen recently. The idea of shutting down a customer service line because too many customers need service seems silly at best.

Is Canada broken? Not as a whole. But for anyone flying recently, it sure feels like it.

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