Canada’s two major airlines, WestJet and Air Canada, are facing accusations they worked together in imposing fees for checked bags.
A proposed class-action lawsuit alleges the airlines colluded in slapping the fee on travellers. The airlines introduced the bag fees just days apart — WestJet on Sept. 15, 2014 and Air Canada on Sept. 18.
At the time, Air Canada officials said the airline was merely following suit.
“We’re matching the market. We took a couple days to think through it,” said Mike Rousseau, Air Canada’s head of finance, when the fees were announced in 2014.
However, the statement of claim, filed in the Court of Queen’s Bench for Saskatchewan, said it would be “impossible” for Air Canada to introduce the new measure so quickly had they not been in the loop.
Tony Merchant, the class action lawyer who filed the claim, said it was also suspicious that Air Canada announced the same fee structure as WestJet, with both adding a $25 fee for the first checked bag for economy passengers in Canada.
When contacted Tuesday Air Canada declined to comment on the proposed lawsuit, citing its policy on not discussing matters before the court. WestJet declined to comment publicly outside of its future court filings on the matter.
Canada’s local airline routes don’t have much competition. On top of that, Canadian passengers lack a solid bill of rights, according to passenger rights advocate Gabor Lukacs. He said industry watchdogs have morphed into “lapdogs,” in an interview with Global News earlier this year.
“Canada is very much behind the rest of the world when it comes to air passenger rights,” Lukacs said.
There is a lack of oversight in the industry as a whole, said Lukacs, who suggested the sky’s the limit for added fees.
“We are already paying a lot of other fees: baggage fees, seat fees, perhaps carry-on fees, some airlines charge for issuing a boarding pass,” Lukacs said.
Lukacs suggests Canadians get vocal with their local MP in demanding a passenger bill of rights.
Canada’s major airlines have been largely unapologetic about added fees.
“All of those drivers are part of our business plan going forward,” Calin Rovinescu, chief executive of Air Canada, said in May 2015.
“We’ve already indicated that on baggage fees and on some of these other ancillary charges. We think these are important drivers of the business model, and they’ve been accepted broadly in the U.S. and in other parts of the world, as well,” Rovinescu said.
When the bag fees were announced, CIBC estimated the additional charges would generate $37 million for Air Canada and $70 million for WestJet, annually.
Photo by Francisco Antunes via Flickr.