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Overhaul needed?: Canadians calling for change as airline study takes off 

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Many Canadians say they’re hoping for “sweeping changes” following news Canada’s Competition Bureau will be studying the country’s airline industry.

The study comes as airline complaints regarding customer service, lost luggage and cancelled and delayed flights see a dramatic rise.

Right now, Air Canada and WestJet control about 90 per cent of all flights.

Anthony Durocher with the federal agency’s Competition Promotion Branch says bringing in more competition would help consumer satisfaction with the sector.

“One of the benefits of competition is to bring downward pressure on prices and that is certainly important,” he told CTV News. “What we want to do is take a deep dive and make recommendations to government as to what steps need to be taken.”

The study trails the recent demise of both Lynx Airlines and Swoop.

That’s left Canadians with limited options — forced to play ball with companies many have expressed disdain for.

A recent JD Power survey on 2024 North American Airline satisfaction found that Air Canada and WestJet ranked well below average in premium economy and basic economy when compared to other North American airlines.

Lost on arrival

Calgarian Nancy Loraas has been flying frequently for years. And until recently, she’s been a supporter of her local carrier, Westjet.

That all changed on May 5.

She was travelling home from Vancouver — on a standard, direct flight — when her luggage was lost.

She believes a customer service agent improperly tagged the bag, but she can’t be sure. What she does know is that it’s been more than three weeks without any definitive answers.

“I actually have been back to the airport several times to that desk, and the message I consistently get is ‘we have no idea what happened to your suitcase’ or ‘we have no record of it ever being tagged in Vancouver,’” Loraas said. “I had to make an appointment for Thursday — that’s one week from now — to talk to a real person to chat about what the next step is and what money I might get.”

That potential compensation, Loraas claims, is another problem.

Emails shown to CTV News offer a “maximum liability amount” of $2,300.

She says she’s pegged the actual cost of the luggage and its contents at $5,100.

After weeks of what she calls “being run around,” Loraas approached CTV News looking for help.

“This just should not be happening,” she said. “Somebody knows where this bag is and I think they need to try a little harder to find it.”

Aviation experts weigh in

Many experts believe without more competition, Canadians could be stuck with sub-par customer service.

“When you try to call a call centre, whether it’s WestJet or Air Canada, what do you get? You get the automated voice or you get chatbots. If you want to talk to someone, good luck,” said John Gradek, an aviation expert with McGill University.

"Air Canada and WestJet have basically said that mediocre performance is acceptable by the Canadian consumer and so on-time performance is not a big deal,” he said.

Calgary’s Rick Erickson calls the entire system rotten. He chalks some of the sector’s problems up to federal government fee collection.

Ottawa essentially charges its 24 largest airports rent, which is passed to the airlines, and in turn, consumers.

He’d like to see the industry treated like other transport sectors and subsidized to lessen some of the customer load.

“Most other governments say ’it’s a national priority, everyone will pay for aviation security,’” Erickson said. “Not so in Canada.

“That’s the problem. That’s what needs to get fixed. No need to study this, let’s change our policies.”

The bureau believes more competition will mean lower prices, better services and improved productivity. It's calling for public feedback. You can submit your comments regarding the airline industry to the bureau by June 17.

-With files from CTV News Toronto’s Pat Foran

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