After a month of embarrassing news stories (with viral audio-video and pictorial accompaniments) of US airline employees manhandling customers against their will, and with a fresh story about a flight diverting its course because a passenger refused to pay $12 for a blanket (apparently because he was cold), Canada’s two major airlines, WestJet and Air Canada, have recently announced plans to offer customers new low-cost “no frills” flights — as if their economy passengers have ever received a frill in the last decade. Evidently a new “ultra low” fare competitor, NewLeaf, is threatening to take some of their market share in the wonderful realm of air travel.
WestJet began the race to the bottom in Canadian airline flight when it categorically reduced the cost of flying great distances and in turn removed the frill of a meal on standard economy flights. The usual break in the monotony (and growing appetites) on standard four hour flights that came with the provision of a hot meal (chicken, vegetarian or pasta) was thereby lost. Passengers got a Halloween-size pack of pretzels or cookies and a soft drink or coffee, and airline staff were relieved of the headaches of serving meals, cleaning them up and otherwise addressing the needs of nattering patrons. Free blankets for air-conditioned flights were out of the question, as were headsets for films and music. Because WestJet executives were sagacious enough to know just how shitty the normal experience of airline travel had become, their on-board employees broke further with tradition and started telling jokes at the beginning and ending of flights as a matter of policy. Humor is the logical antidote to misery, so the tried-and-true policy of providing “bread and circuses” was cleverly implemented, just without the bread.
Air Canada quickly followed suit and ever since economy-fare passengers on Canadian airlines have come to expect nothing less than an entirely unpleasant experience on their flights, beginning with the cost of checking bags, continuing with the fact that most patrons avoid that cost by bringing excessive carry-on luggage onto the plane, thereby making it increasingly difficult for those who follow the carry-on rule to find space for their bags, thus leading to more elbowing, resentment and increased baggage in the ever-dwindling floor space, et cetera et cetera. Such are the 1st World problems of air travel. Europeans have been accustomed to ultra-low cost flights for decades, though their flights tend to be much shorter in duration than Canadian flights are — and significantly cheaper.
With Canada’s latest entry into the competition for airline market share, Canadian airline passengers can now look forward to saving a few more dollars at the front end of the experience, which they can then spend on alcohol and other forms of headache relief during the flight (assuming any food or alcohol will be left on the plane to purchase), and maybe even have a few dollars left over to offset their historically high levels of household indebtedness. (Don’t be surprised if NewLeaf’s slogan becomes “Leafin’ on a jet plane.”)
Editorial Note: Perhaps not too surprisingly, Huffington Post, Canada, just published a piece entitled, “Canada’s Airlines Rank Near Bottom on Customer Satisfaction”.
P.P.S. And today CBC News reported that the federal government is set to announce the introduction of a passengers’ Bill of Rights tomorrow. My, isn’t that timely.