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EDITORIAL: Airfares could take off

Industry watchers warn that air travel could get more costly given recent business acquisitions and the lessening of competition. —
Industry watchers warn that air travel could get more costly given recent business acquisitions and the lessening of competition. — 123RF Stock Illustration

The lesson about why airlines make decisions is trailing along behind you on a set of rattling little wheels. It’s probably fatter and heavier than it’s supposed to be — you rule-breaker, you — but maybe no one will catch on.

It’s your carry-on luggage.

If you’re lucky, you’ll get on your plane early enough to find it a home. Or maybe, as is almost always the case now, shortly before flight time, the airline will offer to put your carry-on in cargo for free, because the plane is so full that sorting out the carry-on mess before takeoff will cost expensive time.

It wasn’t always that way. In the not-so-distant past, airlines used to let you take one piece of luggage for free. Remember those heady days, when you didn’t fill the shoes you’d packed with rolled-up socks and underwear? But then, an enterprising airline decided it could make people pay a fee for what had been free, and airlines across North America jumped on the bandwagon faster than you could say “unexpected profit source.”

Charging for anything larger than carry-ons has shifted the baggage landscape and has not improved the air travel experience. Airline staff must love the near-daily battles about oversized carry-ons and limited overhead bin space.

Remember those heady days, when you didn’t fill the shoes you’d packed with rolled-up socks and underwear?

But it’s made money.

Changing the makeup and number of ramp crews may slow deplaning and frustrate passengers trying to retrieve their baggage — but reducing labour costs makes money.

Overbooking flights, and then bumping passengers off the flights they’d already paid for, is hardly a way to garner happy thoughts or passenger loyalty.

But, because it keeps airplanes full, it makes money.

Sensing a theme yet?

That brings us to the effort by Onex Corp. to take WestJet private, and to Air Canada’s purchase of Air Transat.

Neither of those decisions was made to make things better for airline passengers.

They were made for the same reasons that airlines make all their decisions.

There’s profit to be made somewhere in Onex’s plan, and also in Air Canada’s effort to diminish competition. If there wasn’t money to be found, Canada’s airlines wouldn’t do it.

In Air Canada’s case, three professors at the Rotman School of Management at the University of Toronto point out that the Air Transat purchase will mean Air Canada will increase the company’s market share on European routes from 43 per cent to 63 per cent. It will also give the carrier a 50 per cent chunk of routes to Florida and the Caribbean.

And increased market share gives airlines added muscle.

The professors suggest that having a single carrier on a route increases ticket prices by as much as 40 per cent.

That’s hardly news to anyone who has to fly routes, even in Atlantic Canada, that are served by only one Canadian airline now. So, buckle up.


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