I have always been proud of Air Canada. Whenever I see their jets on the runway or in the air, I always get a stirring inside me, similar to the patriotic feeling that I get when I see the Canadian flag flying in a foreign country. I guess that is why they refer to it as a flag carrier airline. Last year, by a lucky fluke of ticketing, I got to travel in the “pod” section of a brand new Boeing 777 Dreamliner to San Francisco. It was wonderful to be able to stretch out completely, and be truly comfortable on such a long flight. Air Canada certainly did itself proud on that flight.
Unfortunately, the shine has come off for me, due to several other experiences with Air Canada, so I started to look into what is going on with this airline that makes it great and not-so-great at the same time. From what I have found out, there are four different airlines under the Air Canada name. In order to fill up the seats on the major air routes, they have the Air Express service, which used to be called Air Jazz. These small planes fly into the big airports from small cities across the country. This is a great way to get connected with your overseas flight, if Air Express actually works.
I have been left scrambling to get to Toronto when a Kingston flight was cancelled because of bad weather. I was bumped from a flight back to Kingston because a flight was overbooked. I was left stranded on the tarmac in Kingston because the plane had a mechanical failure, and there was no mechanic to deal with the problem, which meant that I missed my flight to Europe. That caused me have to drive to Toronto the next day to catch another flight. The problems with Air Express are so numerous that the ticket agent in Toronto told me that I should have known better than to rely on a flight out of Kingston.
When I finally got on the flight to Venice, I was amazed at how many Americans were on the plane. I was chatting with a fellow from Indianapolis about this, and he told me that an Air Canada flight was the best and cheapest way for them to get to Europe. He did also tell me that he had the same problems getting to Toronto, though. Air Canada collects travellers from across the states using Air Georgian as their partner. To keep costs down, this air carrier pays pilots and mechanics very little, and as a result, they have a chronic problem attracting both. Being a pilot is a stressful and difficult job enough, with odd hours, jet lag and fatigue. With the shortage of trained pilots, the result is often cancelled flights on the low cost airlines. Air Canada has cancelled its contract with Air Georgian and is transferring its flights over to Air Canada Express, after a Transportation Safety Board report highlighted systemic safety problems at the airline.
Air Canada Rouge is the low-cost wing of the airline, which mainly serves tourist destinations in the tropics. The seats are smaller and there is no built-in entertainment systems. People are willing to pay for a stripped-down and uncomfortable flight if the time in the air is short and the cost low. The aircraft that Rouge uses are not new, though, often being hand-me-downs from Air Canada. These older planes have more mechanical problems, and they fly to areas where Air Canada does not have mechanics. I ran into a problem on a flight heading back from Fort Lauderdale – the fully-loaded plane waited two hours to take off, while they tested out one of the jets. We were finally cleared to take off, and when we were well out over the ocean, the left engine blew and rattled the plane badly. All air traffic at the airport was stopped, as we limped back in on one engine, in an emergency landing. After the fire trucks cleared us, we were let off of the plane to wait twelve hours in the airport for a replacement flight.
I still like Air Canada, but I will no longer take a flight out of Kingston, nor will I book a flight with Air Canada Rouge. It is too bad that the City of Kingston has spent millions of dollars on upgrading the airport, only to have the same old crappy Air Canada Express service.
Jeff Scott is a former councillor for the City of Kingston (Countryside District), and has contributed editorial content local publications for a number of years. He continues to live, work and write in the Countryside district of Kingston, and runs his own blog, The Countryside View. Visit his Facebook page at www.facebook.com/jeffscottthecountrysideview to read more of Jeff’s content.