Fed up fliers frus­trated by ser­vice cuts, hor­ror sto­ries vow to avoid air­lines

Cape Breton Post - - Business -

Af­ter years of watch­ing ser­vice de­cline and fees rise, avid trav­eller Ge­orge Chow didn’t need another rea­son to avoid the air­lines.

But a steady stream of hor­ror sto­ries in the news is only ce­ment­ing his re­solve to find other modes of trans­port when­ever pos­si­ble.

A planned ex­cur­sion to the Mar­itimes this fall will al­most cer­tainly be by train or car, says the Markham, Ont., res­i­dent.

“It’s just get­ting more and more dif­fi­cult and chal­leng­ing to get onto a plane,’’ com­plains Chow, a 55-year-old semi-re­tired ac­coun­tant.

The lat­est air­line flap, re­ported by the CBC on Wed­nes­day, in­volves a com­plaint that a 15-year-old boy trav­el­ling alone was stuck at Toronto’s Pear­son air­port overnight af­ter a de­lay caused him to miss his con­nect­ing flight with Air Canada. His mother said he wasn’t of­fered any help with meals or ac­com­mo­da­tion. An Air Canada spokesman said the air­line was sorry to learn of the boy’s ex­pe­ri­ence and has con­tacted the fam­ily.

And trav­ellers are still stewing over the vi­o­lent ejec­tion of a United Air­lines pas­sen­ger in April. Cell­phone video of a Ken­tucky doc­tor be­ing dragged off an over­booked jet­liner sparked wide­spread anger over the way he was treated, and added fuel to years of sim­mer­ing com­plaints about gen­eral ser­vice cuts, cramped seats and soar­ing sur­charges.

What was once the most con­ve­nient way to travel has now be­come fraught with stress and worry, say many Cana­di­ans plan­ning their sum­mer get­aways.

“I’ve never gone on a flight and just gone, ‘Wow, that was so easy to do with my fam­ily,’’’ says On­tario singer-song­writer Sarah Black­wood, who of­ten can’t avoid fly­ing to con­cert dates.

“If I had the choice and time wasn’t an is­sue, I wouldn’t ever fly, it’s my least favourite part

of the job.’’

It’s es­pe­cially stress­ful for fam­i­lies with young kids, says the Walk Off the Earth singer, who made head­lines two years ago when she was kicked off a flight op­er­ated by United Air­lines be­cause her tod­dler was cry­ing.

She sym­pa­thizes any­time she sees a mom strug­gling to wran­gle kids on a flight.

That was the case with an Amer­i­can Air­lines scuf­fle that made head­lines last month. A flight at­ten­dant was ac­cused of vi­o­lently grab­bing a dou­blewide stroller from a pas­sen­ger as she tried to put it in an over­head bin, al­legedly hit­ting her and nar­rowly missing her baby in the process.

Black­wood im­plores air­lines to be more pa­tient with par­ents and for air­ports to of­fer play ar­eas that can help stave off tantrums and cry­ing fits when it’s time to board.

“Trav­el­ling with kids is not ever go­ing to be easy but I’ve been in sit­u­a­tions where I’ve gone up to the check-in desk and they’ve told me I can’t bring my stroller through the gate,’’ says Black­wood, who trav­els by tour bus when­ever pos­si­ble.

“Imag­ine — I was trav­el­ling on my own and had to carry one child and then drag the other one.’’

Air pas­sen­ger rights ad­vo­cate Ga­bor Lukacs says non­stop com­plaints about air­lines high­light the need for greater con­sumer pro­tec­tion. But he says the Cana­dian Trans­porta­tion Agency has a poor record of back­ing the con­sumer when a com­plaint is filed.

“The Cana­dian Trans­porta­tion Agency very of­ten sends away pas­sen­gers with le­git­i­mate com­plaints and if things do go to a for­mal com­pli­ant then they tend to rule against pas­sen­gers,’’ says Lukacs, who ac­cuses the agency’s lead­er­ship of be­ing too eas­ily in­flu­enced by the big air­lines.

The prob­lem is Cana­di­ans don’t have much choice when it comes to travel op­tions, and there are re­ally no con­se­quences for trans­gres­sions, says the Nova Sco­tia-based air­line critic.

Last fall, Ot­tawa promised to in­tro­duce a bill of rights for air pas­sen­gers this spring.

A spokesper­son for Trans­port Minister Marc Garneau said it would ad­dress bump­ing

rules and es­tab­lish clear, min­i­mum re­quire­ments for com­pen­sa­tion when flights are over­sold or lug­gage lost.

Lukacs said that is not good enough, not­ing the U.S. de­part­ment of trans­porta­tion will fine air­lines mil­lions of dol­lars when they are caught mis­treat­ing pas­sen­gers.

“The ques­tion is en­force­ment. What will hap­pen to an air­line that, in spite of the law, tells a pas­sen­ger ‘get lost’? Will there be fi­nan­cial con­se­quences?’’ says Lukacs, who urges pas­sen­gers to doc­u­ment any dis­putes and take com­plaints to small claims court in­stead of the Cana­dian Trans­porta­tion Agency.

The cur­rent po­lit­i­cal cli­mate makes any travel to the U.S. es­pe­cially fraught for med­i­cal stu­dent Zahra So­hani, who says she’s in­clined to avoid cross­ing the border by air or land as long as Pres­i­dent Don­ald Trump seeks to ban im­mi­grants from some Mus­lim-ma­jor­ity coun­tries.

The Mus­lim-Cana­dian reg­u­larly vis­its friends and fam­ily in Or­lando, Fla., but fears be­ing in­ter­ro­gated or turned away at the air­port.

CP PHOTO

Walk Off The Earth mem­bers in­clud­ing Sarah Black­wood, cen­tre, pose on the green car­pet be­fore the 2013 Juno Gala, Din­ner and Awards in Regina on April 20, 2013. “I’ve never gone on a flight and just gone, ‘Wow, that was so easy to do with my fam­ily,’” says Black­wood, who of­ten can’t avoid fly­ing to con­cert dates.

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