Canadian airlines need some common sense

Today, early in the morning, JetsGo pulled the plug. I’m not surprised, really. They were an okay airline, not unlike WestJet, but they didn’t have the following WestJet has. (There’s Deadheads, and then there’s Jetheads. I think the loyalty is about the same.) This is why WestJet has survived against the 800 pound gorilla of Canadian airspace, Air Canada.

This isn’t the first time this has happened. And it won’t be the last. Air Canada has far too strong a hand for such a weak airline. Thanks to our Federal Government being far too kind to this venture, they’ve been allowed to rack up insane levels of debt, make unbelievably idiotic decisions, and still survive. Any private concern would have folded a decade or more ago.

Let’s skip back 10 years. There was an airline called Canadian Airlines. They were the darlings of the Canadian airline industry — amazing service, good prices, decent routes. (They were a combination of Canadian Pacific Air Lines, Pacific Western Airlines, Eastern Provincial Airways, and Nordair.) I liked them. A lot.

Air Canada didn’t. They were the direct competition, and regularly won out against Air Canada for prices. So Air Canada played their trump card — government support — and did something any private company couldn’t have done. They cut their prices. To the level of losing money, and lots of it.

Canadian tried to fight back, but because it was a private company, subject to the reality of the world, eventually started to suffer. I witnessed this every time I flew. First it was the food quality. It went from great, to decent, to passable, to barely there. The last time that I flew with them, I think I got a granola bar. It weighed on the staff, who liked working for that airline.

Canadian was eventually forced to sell itself to its competitor, Air Canada. In a seemingly petty final backslap for daring to challenge the King of Canadian Airspace, Air Canada turned the Canadian Airlines assets and staff into its cutrate airline, Tango. The former Canadian staff are a justifiably bitter lot, and I’m unable to fly Tango as a result.

Canada 3000 was a bulk carrier. My dad used to call them “Cattle Car 3000”. They weren’t the best airline to fly, but they were the cheapest of the lot. They only flew on certain days and on certain routes. But they supported the charter travel industry quite well, and they seemed to thrive.

Until Air Canada decided that it didn’t like Canada 3000’s practices. So they went after them. Canada 3000 was small potatoes. They didn’t offer any threat to Air Canada. Didn’t matter, though. Like Canadian Airlines, Canada 3000 tanked because it simply couldn’t compete.

Air Canada has developed a fairly effective tactic of taking out domestic carriers. First, there was Tango, the remnants of Canadian Airlines. This was Air Canada’s first attempt to try and take out the other domestic carriers (mostly WestJet). When this failed to acquire enough of the airspace they wanted, another kid entered the field: Zip.

Zip was the cut-cutrate airline. They were to be the WestJet killer, it seemed. Maybe they had some success, though, as they succeeded in driving prices even lower. It doesn’t seem to be around anymore, though. (Could it be they finally be getting wiser?)

Then there’s Jazz, the regional carrier. By “regional”, that means “flights to backwater areas of the country that are better served by independent regional carriers”.

Basically, Air Canada has done an excellent job of spreading itself thin. It’s like when you pull Silly Putty too far apart, and gaps start to form where the putty can’t hold itself together. This is where all the money seems to go, I think. And when the gaps become too large, Air Canada goes back to the government for help.

With the fall of JetsGo, it’s time that Air Canada was cut loose of the Federal umbilical cord. It’s time that they had to suffer the slings and arrows that everyone else does. It’s time that Air Canada actually starts to compete with other airlines, rather than drive them out of existence.

In my opinion, here’s what Air Canada should do: spin off Jazz and Tango (Zip’s gone, so it seems, so no worries there). Let them either survive or die off as they should, not protected by the Mother Ship. Then Air Canada should drop its domestic flights, save for the long-haul ones (Montreal/Toronto – Vancouver, Halifax – Vancouver) and concentrate on international. As an international carrier, Air Canada is great — I love flying them.

Domestic, I fly WestJet.

Tagged with: