Low fuel prices don’t mean cheap flights

Winnipeg Free Press - Section F - - TRAVEL - RON PRADINUK

GAS, gaso­line and steam. Such is the na­ture of the range of ques­tions ad­dressed in to­day’s col­umn.

Ques­tion: With oil prices lower than they have been in years, isn’t it time air­lines ended their ridicu­lous fuel charges and low­ered fly­ing costs across the board?

An­swer: Air­line prof­its were al­ready back on track even be­fore the most re­cent slide in oil prices. So it would seem a log­i­cal as­sump­tion that trav­ellers across the air­line spec­trum would be­gin to see some sig­nif­i­cant price shifts.

Cana­dian air­lines ar­gue fuel sur­charges for over­seas flight are nec­es­sary to some­how re­main com­pet­i­tive with air­lines based in the United States.

Given the fact var­i­ous fees and taxes levied against air­lines in the U.S. are much lower, there may be some va­lid­ity to the ar­gu­ment. How­ever, in­dus­try an­a­lysts also rec­og­nize th­ese ex­tras have been profit-driven as well.

While the In­ter­na­tional Air Trans­port As­so­ci­a­tion (IATA), the cosy club the ma­jor air play­ers of the world be­long to, projects lower fares are likely over the next cou­ple of months, do­mes­tic car­ri­ers sug­gest the Cana­dian re­al­i­ties are dif­fer­ent than those south of the bor­der in another way.

Their counter-ar­gu­ment is based on the value of the fall­ing Cana­dian dol­lar against the Amer­i­can green­back, com­pared with the sav­ings ac­quired with the fall in oil prices.

Air Canada es­ti­mates that for ev­ery $1 drop in oil prices, the company po­ten­tially saves $26 mil­lion in fuel costs.

Off­set­ting that is the neg­a­tive im­pact of our fall­ing dol­lar. Canada’s air­lines buy their fuel based on U.S. cur­rency val­ues. Since our dol­lar be­gan los­ing value early last year, its buy­ing power has de­creased by more than four per cent.

Air Canada say ev­ery one cent drop in the value of the Cana­dian dol­lar af­fects pre-tax prof­its to the tune of $48 mil­lion.

It will take a bet­ter math­e­ma­ti­cian than my­self to cal­cu­late where fig­ures lie and liars fig­ure, but th­ese are the ra­tio­nales be­ing made th­ese days.

While the real bal­anc­ing point may be ar­guable, what is not in ques­tion is the con­sumer ex­pec­ta­tion re­lat­ing to daily me­dia re­ports about fall­ing oil prices.

Another fly in the prover­bial oint­ment is up­com­ing union ne­go­ti­a­tions at Air Canada. While the air­line re­cently achieved a sta­ble, long-term agree­ment with its pi­lot’s union, on the near hori­zon, the air­line’s big­gest union will be at the bar­gain­ing ta­ble ask­ing for a lot more.

Uni­for rep­re­sents the ap­prox­i­mately 4,000 front-line em­ploy­ees of the air­line, in­clud­ing ticket and gate agents and oth­ers who deal di­rectly with the pub­lic. They took some heavy hits dur­ing the dark­est days of Air Canada’s bank­ruptcy pro­tec­tion ne­go­ti­a­tions a decade ago.

The union sees this as payback time, ar­gu­ing salary ranges be­tween $23,000 and $43,000 an­nu­ally are sim­ply too low for the work they do.

Th­ese dis­cus­sions will start to get se­ri­ous later this month. And with profit pro­jec­tions for the air­line as rosy as they have ever been, this se­ries of ne­go­ti­a­tions has the po­ten­tial of go­ing off the rails quickly.

Ques­tion: River cruise lines seem to op­er­ate in most of the rivers of the

How­ever limited, their cruises — tar­geted mostly to se­niors — are mod­er­ately priced and pro­vide pas­sen­gers with ex­cel­lent ex­pe­ri­ences through Canada’s most his­toric re­gions.

Ques­tion: This is a crazy ques­tion, which may come more from my imag­i­na­tion than any­thing, for all I know. When­ever I am on a com­mer­cial flight, I find I am very bloated and gaseous. I am the guy mak­ing sev­eral trips to the wash­room dur­ing the flight. Is there any change that takes place in a per­son’s body that would bring this on dur­ing air travel?

An­swer: There may be silent sighs of re­lief as I an­swer in the af­fir­ma­tive to this del­i­cate ques­tion.

Ev­ery­one has the biological need to ex­pel gas cre­ated by foods that are not fully ab­sorbed by our sys­tems. They are usu­ally con­verted to hy­dro­gen, ni­tro­gen and car­bon diox­ide.

My re­search tells me most of us ex­pel ap­prox­i­mately a litre of gas on a daily ba­sis. How­ever, when we are fly­ing at 30,000 feet, the gases inside us ex­pand by almost a third, caus­ing bloat­ing and sig­nalling us to ad­dress the is­sue.

This may ex­plain why there of­ten are long line­ups for air­plane wash­rooms, on lengthy flights in par­tic­u­lar.

For­ward your travel ques­tions to askjour­neys@jour­neystravel.com. Ron Pradinuk is pres­i­dent of Jour­neys Travel & Leisure Su­per­Centre and can be heard

Sun­days at noon on CJOB. Pre­vi­ous col­umns and tips can be found on www. jour­neystrav­el­gear.com. Read Ron’s travel blog at www.that­trav­el­guy.ca.

RON PRADINUK / WIN­NIPEG FREE PRESS

St. Lawrence Cruise Lines of­fer Cana­dian river cruises that in­clude his­toric Que­bec City.

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