Opinion: It’s Time To Cut Air Canada Some Slack

Bruce Parkinson, Open Jaw

Duncan Bureau

Bashing Air Canada has been a national pastime for decades. You’ve heard it all before – zingers like the purported internal motto “We’re not happy until you’re not happy.

But when the carrier was recently named Best North American Airline in the Skytrax World Airline Awards for the sixth time in eight years -- and still took a snide kicking from our national broadcaster -- AC VP Global Sales Duncan Bureau unleashed a rant.

“Yes, we make mistakes. Yes, machines break. Yes, storms impact our business. Yes, we are reliant on a massive network connecting millions of passengers daily being perfect. But the vast majority of the time we deliver all of the above without incident on the more than 1,500 flights we operate daily, for 42 million passengers per year.”

Bureau was responding to a CBC.ca article headlined: “Survey Ranks Air Canada As Top North American Airline – Is It True?” CBC wasn’t the only news outlet to take a dubious view of the ranking. A Global News article was headlined: “Canada’s Airline Rankings Pale In Comparison To Global Competitors.”

There’s some truth in that. Despite leading North American carriers, Air Canada placed 29th in the global table. Porter Airlines, which tends to be a media darling, ranked 55th, WestJet 58th and Air Canada Rouge a pretty dismal 99th. But other well-known carriers didn’t fare well either. BA was 40th. Delta, the top U.S.-based performer, was 32nd. AA was 74th and black-eyed UA dropped 10 spots to 78th.

Skytrax bills its awards as “the Oscars of the aviation industry,” and the result of “the world’s largest airline passenger satisfaction survey.” This year, there were just under 20 million surveys completed. 20 million!

Is it a perfect survey? Is there such a thing? I would say no and no.

I would also say that after flying on and observing Air Canada for over 25 years, I’ve never seen it looking better. 

That's not to say I haven't had bad experiences with the carrier over the years that left a sour taste. No airline is perfect. But I’ve had really great flights with AC too. I’ve had excellent service on Rouge. I’ve also had generally terrific experiences with WestJet and Porter, while friends have reported the opposite. Take a trip through the comments section on the CBC article mentioned above – over 550 of them – and you’ll see the gamut of public opinion.

Another thing: there are so many other irritants to the flying experience these days, many of them beyond the control of the airlines, that a large portion of passengers are in a bad mood almost all the time. It’s hard to impress people who’ve just spent 1.5 hours in security lines.

 I’m glad that Duncan is mad. It means he cares. And to me, that’s the biggest change I’ve seen in Air Canada over the past few years. Staff, in my experience at least, have a pride in their employer that wasn’t nearly as prevalent in the bad old days. There are new planes, new destinations, a fresh look, and the airline is making money in a notoriously difficult business.

And when I listen to AC’s quarterly earnings calls with financial analysts I hear a confident group of executives speaking to an impressed group of hard-to-impress folks.

So take a bow, AC. Best on the continent and #29 in a universe of over 300 carriers is a result. And you’re still gaining altitude. 

Bruce Parkinson

Bruce Parkinson Editor-in-Chief

An observer and analyst of the Canadian and international travel industries for over 25 years.


Alexander Handa - June 26, 2017 @ 21:06
Air Canada is undoubtedly the best airline in NA. Their aircraft, routes, frequency, alliance network, technology and service are better by any measure. Their marketing has not been as effective as their competitors. Maybe they just need to repeat over and over how friendly they are if that's what it takes to convince people these days. We are very lucky in Canada to have many great airlines. My only complaint would be the high prices. But to criticize airlines for finally making money seems mean spirited. Here's to the miracle of flight and a robust aviation/travel industry in Canada. Congrats AC!

Les - June 23, 2017 @ 12:06
The problem here is the title of the award. If Air Canada is in fact the "Best North American Airline", it is a sad indictment on the airline industry in general. A more accurate title for the award might be the the "Least Annoying North American Airline", it is hard to use the word "best" to describe most airlines today.

Mike - June 23, 2017 @ 12:06
Well, I have flown dozens of airlines from around the world, most airlines these days have the same or similar hardware which the airlines don't make so no point I giving them credit for it. Let's talk about he software AC's cabin crew, airport staff that needs to go a loooong way from where they are today, if CBC or anyone else is bashing AC they are referring to that, I travel in business class & sometimes economy to say the least the onboard service is still pathetic. Thanks to Aeroplan I still travel AC but never as a first choice.

Tom - June 23, 2017 @ 12:06
What survey every is 100% accurate? I can tell you from experience that having flown on many airlines Canadian and not that Air Canada is by far my first choice! When I'm sitting in a destination and I see the Air Canada Plane landing it makes me proud. Great Experiences amazing aircrafts and for the most happy employees. Congratulations Air Canada on your achievement.

Dave Heron - June 23, 2017 @ 11:06
Air Canada has been the target of public scrutiny and media bashing for more years than most readers have been around. Some of it earned and some of it simply because it's become a National pastime. Having flown with them since the early days of North Stars and Super Connies I can attest to some great flights as well as some not-so-great ones. Same holds true for pretty much any carrier out there plying the skies of the international battlefield. I can certainly share that after coming off a few less-than- stellar overseas connections with a plethora of other carriers, I'm generally pretty happy to hop on board a mainline Air Canada bird.

Bruce Parkinson - June 23, 2017 @ 10:06
Just for the record Stephen, I've never asked for an upgrade in my life, and it's been many years since I've sat up front. As I said in the piece, I don't claim to have the skills to judge the validity of the Skytrax awards, though I agree with you that many industry awards are open to advertiser influence. But I do believe that Air Canada is a much better airline than it once was. That's why the article is billed as an opinion piece. It's my opinion.

Stephen Elmy - June 23, 2017 @ 10:06
Bruce, I hope Duncan will reward you with an upgrade on your next trip. My many years of experience with Skytrax, proved that the more advertising dollars that were spent, the better chance your airline had of winning these prestigious awards....

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