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Air Apparent

Back in 2019 when newspapers were made of paper, I would take part in an annual ritual of disbelief: I’d turn the page of The Globe and Mail and there would be a full-page ad for Air Canada congratulating itself for being voted the Best Airline in North America.

I would quickly check to see if it was April 1st. Then I would read the small print to find out who gave them the award for four consecutive years from 2019 to 2022.

It’s a magazine called Global Traveler for “U.S.-based frequent, affluent travellers”. It claims the  average Global Traveler reader has a net worth of $2.8 million. Yes, Air Canada’s business class is….respectable. But the Best in all Classes in North America? Puleeeeze.

True, this was before Air Canada reduced its routes; slashed the value of Aeroplan Miles; made spontaneously cancelling flights a sunny-day activity; amped fares; admitted its Montreal-based CEO, Michael Rousseau, can’t speak French; saw customer complaints to Ottawa rise from 18,000 in 2020 to 30,000 in 2022, then 57,000 last year; fought to avoid offering refunds if a flight failed to take off; and claimed its own chatbot was “a separate legal entity that is responsible for its own actions;” before all this, Canadians had a love-hate relationship with our national airline.

Back before COVID, like all of us, Air Canada sometimes screwed up. But it tried hard and was safe and reliable. Like Canada itself, Air Canada was ‘pretty good’ and we were pretty content.

But its failures this past year are neither common to other airlines nor the result of post-COVID staffing pressures. Indeed, they are unlike any other airline and maybe even any other company that sells services to consumers.

True, last year Air Canada had the worst on-time performance among major North American airlines with only 63% of its flights landing on time.

But I’m talking about something no other airline does with such reliable regularity.

o   Last May, Ryan Lachance, who has quad-spastic cerebral palsy, was dropped and injured by Air Canada staff while trying to disembark his flight in Vancouver. The crew declined to use the eagle lift required for his safe transfer.

o   Last June, Air Canada failed to let a disabled passenger at Toronto Pearson Airport board ahead of other passengers. Once the flight landed in Vancouver, it  failed to return the passenger’s mobility aid in a timely way.

o   Last September, Rodney Hodgins, who has spastic cerebral palsy, was forced to drag himself off a plane in Las Vegas because Air Canada would not provide wheelchair assistance.

o   Last October, Air Canada lost a disabled passenger’s wheelchair after she checked it in Toronto and discovered it was missing when she landed in Vancouver. The fact that Stephanie Cadieux is Canada’s chief accessibility officer didn’t help.

o   Last November, CBC reported that “a Toronto woman who uses a power wheelchair had her ventilator disconnected and a lift fall on her head, all on a single journey.”

I don’t believe for a second that Air Canada is targeting disabled Canadians, hoping they’ll just not fly on the airline at all. But I  also don’t think these five incidents are bad luck; they’re bad management.

So I wasn’t at all surprised to see last week that Air Canada told Cindy Woodhouse Nepinak, the National Chief of the Assembly of First Nations, she couldn’t store her ceremonial head-dress above her seat on a flight from Montreal to Fredericton – something she’d done on many flights before.

At a time when companies everywhere are hyper-aware of not giving offense, of over-caring for their stakeholders, of inviting those who used to be outsiders in, Air Canada seems deaf, blind and mute to it all.

In 2018, Jean and I travelled in the Northern Territories of Australia. I was writing an article about Indigenous tourism there. We criss-crossed the continent on Qantas. On our final flight, from Broome on the west coast to Sydney on the east and then home, the flight attendant announced as the lights of Sydney came into view:

“Qantas acknowledges the First Nations peoples of Australia as the continuing custodians and traditional owners of the land on which we live and work.”

I wrote an opinion piece about that in The Globe and Mail, calling on Air Canada, WestJet and Porter to make Indigenous landing announcements too. That piece drew 127 comments, though silence from Air Canada.

Maybe they thought it was unsafe? But Qantas is one of the world’s safest airlines.

Took too much added work? But it takes just 10 seconds to read.

Would embroil Air Canada in issues they didn’t need or own?

But that was then. This is now and times and passengers have changed.

We are grumpy, growing grumpier every day. Being Canadians, we’ve been content to be grumpy passivists. But it won’t take much to turn us into a nation of grumpy activists.

 

Meanwhile….

 

1. The FTC bans non-competes. Extinction events aren’t limited these days to our evaporation by AI or climate change, or even that old standby, nuclear holocaust (where it’s still 90 seconds to midnight on the Doomsday Clock). Now, they’re also  in the rules of how business big and small does business.

Last week, the Federal Trade Commission in New York banned non-compete agreements. These constrain a worker’s ability to work for a rival for a period of time. Non-competes are used by big banks and brokers, but also by local yoga studios to keep the talent from leaving and opening up across the street.

It being America, already the US Chamber of Commerce has filed a lawsuit against the FTC’s 570-page ruling, citing ‘over-reach’ of its authority.

The FTC commissioners, led by chair Lina Khan, voted 3-2 last Tuesday to invalidate all existing non-competes. In other words, one person’s vote changed the ground that business walks on. At least for 30 million US workers. No news on similar extinctions by Canadian regulators.

2. A history of women in 101 objects. One of Britain’s best new books includes this entry on Burkbraun’s Radium Chocolate. As author Annabelle Hirsch tells us: “Pretty much everything had been getting laced with radium,” including “face creams, toothpaste, lipstick”. And some things just got the name “radium” attached to them — “yes, even condoms (which didn’t actually contain any radium but still featured the word on the packet to suggest potency).” These clips by Helen Mirren, Gillian Anderson, and Helena Bonham-Carter animate some of Hirsch’s other objects.

3. Don’t like spiders? You’ll really hate these. Then again, Absent dads? Some of them deserve to be preserved too. Beautiful trees? Can’t get enough. What about animal sounds? Them too. Okay, so… musical roads? Available in 11 countries, but not Canada yet. Why not?

4. AI advances. Surprise retreats. We need a new word for the ‘good shock-bad shock’ that every new AI-thing brings. Like lifelike talking faces, and removing AI hallucinations, which is AI’s habit of getting even the most basic facts wrong. Then again, there’s no downside at all to creating digital hearts.

5. Can aspirin prevent heart disease? It’s one of medicine’s most enduring myths. But is it true? Not any more. What is a universal elixir seems to be metaphors in medicine,followed by rhyme as reason. Advertising also works wonders, like this: “If we had a cream that we could rub on our breasts every day to prevent breast cancer we would all use it. So why is it that we’re still not wearing sunscreen?”

6. Pet wars and family viewing. First, in early September 1939, the citizens of London set about killing their pets. Next, some serious egg-flipping. Finally, did you know the Toronto Public Library will read a bedtime story to your child every night? In 16 languages? And….and…

Saturday is Kentucky Derby Day. It’s also the 60th anniversary of Northern Dancer becoming the first Canadian Thoroughbred to win the Derby. There’s a show about Dancer’s win (A Musical in Ten Furlongs) opening next spring, and if you want to come along for the ride

7. “I wait for new Smil books the way some people wait for the next Star Wars movie.” When Bill Gates says that, we all should sit up. Smil books? It turns out Vaclav Smil, now 80 and Distinguished Professor Emeritus at the University of Manitoba, is one of the world’s great thinkers. As Gates says: “He’s uniquely good at going both deep and broad.”

Vaclav Smil has written 36 books. Last week I started reading one of them, Size: How it explains the world. Oh my…. oh my Lord.

Please note. This isn’t an enthusiastic “What I’m liking,” of which this week’s is Item #11 below. This is as if John le Carré had written 36 novels no one knew about. The shock of the new is….delightful, and thank you, Bernie Lucht for introducing me to Smil, a man who, were he in any other country, would need no introduction.

8. Nothing about us without us. Women patients are less likely to die if they’re treated by a woman doctor.

9. Maybe the race is to the swift. Watch who the fastest animals really are, and what the fastest aircraft are, and trains too.

Speaking of swift, who will ‘win’ the population race by 2075?

10. Death of a Toronto Symphony Orchestra conductor. Sir Andrew Davis, who died in Chicago last week at age 80, led the Toronto Symphony Orchestra from 1975 to 1988. He was a hale-and-hearty Brit who toured the TSO in 1987 to the Northwest Territories, the first time a major orchestra had reached so far north. Here’s the full documentary of that tour, Music in the Midnight Sun, courtesy of its producer Barbara Willis Sweete.

Meanwhile, a cat walked on a keyboard, plus this year’s most anticipated rock tours, and get your free ticket to the Women’s Conducting Master Class on Wednesday June 5th at Roy Thomson Hall. The start of a great summer’s night out.

11. What I’m liking. The perennially surprising polymath Wade Davis has a new book. Or rather, a newish one called Beneath the Surface of Things. It’s made up of some of his more famous essays, including his mid-pandemic lament for a lost America that got 362 million social media hits within five weeks of its publication in Rolling Stone, plus new pieces on issues like the political history of the cocoa leaf.

The initial reviews are impressive:

The Washington Post’s David Ignatius said that “Wade Davis has a gift for saying the unsayable. He’s a fearless explorer in the intellectual world, as in the physical.”

Andrew Weil noted: “The breadth of his knowledge and the range of his curiosity are wondrous.”

And Michael  Ignatieff wrote that “the essay on climate change is simply the best thing I’ve read on the subject”.

_________________

THIS SEPTEMBER, TOUCH THE HEM OF HEAVEN – HERE ON EARTH.

 

Doing that …in BC’s fabled Great Bear Rainforest…. aboard the National Geographic Venture… on a Lindblad Expedition.  The adventure starts in Ketchikan, Alaska, on September 2nd, 2024, and ends on September 9th, 2024  in Prince Rupert, BC.

It’s May right now and summer is just a month away. Time’s running short to book the trip of a lifetime in your home and native land.

So if you want this summer to be deep and memorable, join us.

Here are the details of the trip.

You can register in one of two ways:

1.  Download the application form and fill it out by hand, click here and then email it to the Lindblad Groups at groups@expeditions.com.

2.  Fill  out the form online, click here and your completed copy will automatically be sent to Lindblad Groups and to RamsayTravels.

Onward,

Bob

 

 

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