Sunday, April 06, 2008

You Must Carry Pineapples

Some time ago Air Canada announced that they would no longer accept pets as checked baggage. They weren't cost-effective to carry. They require special handling, cannot tolerate long delays, pose potential for messes, can die from things like cold, stress, heat, or asphyxiation and that brings a lot of negative publicity. Air Canada said, essentially, "We're not accepting pets as checked baggage any more. If you must transport a live animal, do it through our live animal cargo service."

Of course this made many pet owners unhappy, because it costs more in both money and inconvenience to have the pet shipped as cargo, and it probably won't be on the same airplane as the traveller. But if you really want to a) go by Air Canada and b) take your dog, that's the way it works. But apparently it isn't.

The Canadian Transportation Agency has just ruled that Air Canada must begin carrying pets again. I don't get it. If Air Canada declared it was going to stop carrying electric wheelchairs, guide dogs for the blind, or persons of Cree descent, then a regulatory authority should step in. But if Air Canada wants to stop carrying pineapples or charge extra for pink suitcases, aren't they their customers to annoy?

The Canadian charter of rights and freedoms does not provide protection against financial penalty and inconvenience for people who think it would be nice to take their cat to Europe. Service animals were specifically excepted from the ban, so I just don't understand how Air Canada can be forced to accept the risk of carrying a type of baggage that is so easily damaged. They should make smart pet owners continue to send pets via cargo by instituting a high special handling fee, and try to make checking in pets even more inconvenient than checking in regular luggage. Plus they can specify a very broad season for non-carriage due to weather, perhaps if seasonal temperatures at origin, destination or IFR alternate are below freezing, pets are not accepted in checked luggage.

As far as I can tell, Air Canada banned pets in checked luggage because they were not cost effective, considering the volume of normal checked luggage, and because the adverse publicity from pets dying en route is very bad. Why should Fido get more resources than my underwear and t-shirts, for the same price? Why would pet owners so devoted to their pet that they couldn't bear to be on a separate flight from it as they move across the country want to check it in as luggage with an airline that has said it can't look after it?

Go ahead and tell me that all cats are not interchangeable and it makes sense to take yours with you from Halifax to Vancouver, and not just get a new one when you get there. (I understand that cat people feel that way, even if the new one is a good colour match.) But also tell me why Air Canada should be forced to accept your cat as checked baggage.

Edit: In other, very similar news, Westjet has just announced that they will no longer carry unaccompanied minor children. They'll offer a half-priced fare to an adult escort, however. It's the same thing: the airline can't economically offer tge level of safety the service requires, so they aren't going to do it.


janra said...

Cats are not interchangeable, just as dogs are not interchangeable and children are not interchangeable. They have personalities. :-)

That said, I see no problem with charging an extra handling fee for luggage which requires extra handling.

Pet owners often complain that they are being discriminated against, but it is due to a choice that they made, not because of an inherent part of their being.

When you get a pet, you (should) do it knowing that a lot of apartments are now off-limits to you, that you have to do extra preparation for care of your pet when you travel without it, and that travelling with a pet involves more extra work than travelling with a child...

John said...

Fly corporate, you can have your pets in the cabin with you, and we actually have harnesses for dogs so you can buckle them in. lol

Lord Hutton said...

My cats don't fly. They are asleep. As usual.

PlasticPilot said...

I won't say anything about cats interchangeability, but rather comment on how inconvenient pet transport is already now.

As part of our move from Geneva to Frankfurt (rather short trip...) our cat came by air cargo, mostly for timing reasons.

To pick her up at the airport, I had to find the Animal Station in Frankfurt (not exactly a small airport). 45 minutes after the plane landed, I've been handed a bunch of paper, with which I had to go to the airport vet.

Once the vet stamped the papers, I had to go to the cargo customs station, to get another stamp. Needless to say, the two services are few hundred meters apart, and there are relatively long queues at both...

30 minutes after giving the stamped papers back, I got my cat. The overall delivery process lasted for approximately 2 hours !

I have some ideas how it could be even more inconvenient, but I don't want to say them here... some managers could decide to implement them !

Aviatrix said...

The international aspect of cat transport of course includes quarantine and/or veterinary approvals, so can't be blamed on the airline, but is another argument for sending cats as cargo. Otherwise the port of entry has to have facilities for clearing incoming animals at both the cargo and the passenger terminals.

I think they should just swap similarly coloured cats belonging to opposite direction travellers, and save the cats the trouble of air travel. "Be aware that air travel can cause personality changes and weight loss or gain in cats. Occasional colour changes may occur."

Aviatrix said...

They probably shouldn't extend that policy to unaccompanied minors, though.

Dagny said...

bah. Screw AC.


zb said...

"Be aware that air travel can cause personality changes and weight loss or gain in cats. Occasional colour changes may occur."

Seems like this disclaimer applies not only to cats. I seem to experience much of the above myself when I get out of my seat in Y class after a red-eye or a long-haul. For reasons not yet completely explained by scientists, this effect seems to be worse when going eastward (e.g. Nort America to Europe). Probably some weird electromagnetic thing in the atmosphere or whatever.

majroj said...

Pet issues are politically popular and not as unfeasible as one might think if each side goes part way.
How about modules like they have for cargo which fit inside the hold, but they are set up to support a number of pets, and do this route once or twice a day? The owner would pay the difference in cost for schlepping pets and carry only say fifty pounds max luggage (they are free to ship additional LUGGAGE cargo and have it delivered on the other side).

Or, some company can step into the breach and furnish this service either as a corporate jet type deal, or even by train of bus, and either carry owner and pet, or the pet alone, and deliver it to your door.
Pets are for some people a surrogate family and not an accessory ala Paris Hilton's chihuahuas.

PS: I laighed out loud about the surreptitious exchange program. Could even result in gender change or pregnancy.

Head in the Clouds said...

At various times, I have actually carried both of my cats, and my dog (when he was a puppy)on an airline. (one of the cats was checked as luggage because there's a limit to the number of animals allowed in the cabin). This was not on Air Canada, but I can tell you that most airlines DO require a fee for traveling with your pet-- whether as hand luggage or as checked. And there are requirements for paperwork from your vet, etc. (No one checked the paperwork, but they did collect the fee). The dog was easier to travel with. On one flight, the flight attendant was so taken by him that she took him out of the carrier and paraded him up and down the aisle. I guess it's appropriate that his name is Flyer, and he enjoys riding in the back of our 172 (with proper ear protection, of course!).

James said...

I apologize for the long post, my Constitutional Law Exam is tomorrow morning so I'm in the legal issues frame of mind.

My cat hates travelling. However, she's now lived in 3 provinces and been carry on baggage on WestJet and checked baggage on Air Canada and Calm Air. When Air Canada changed its pets policy, I simply flew WestJet.

To a certain extent I agree with you. Market forces should dictate what the airlines can do and the pet owning consumer (myself) will simply choose a different airline.

Unfortunately, there are two problems with this as a result of the transportation system. First, there are some locations where the traveller does not have a choice. Next, but more importantly, despite the fact that the government no longer directly regulates airfares, a healthy national air transportation system is required for the national economy. Because of this the Canadian Transportation Act gives the government the power to balance the interests of the airlines and the passengers.

In this case, the tribunal found that the way Air Canada implemented the new policy did not reasonably balance the needs of the travellers with their financial needs. This, according to the board was 'unreasonable'.

I don't doubt that Air Canada is in a tough spot, and it is slightly unfair that the government has said "Ok, you're your own company, go make money, BUT you still owe a duty to provide good services to the country" Regardless, they are vital to the transportation web of the country and according to s.67.2 of the Canadian Transportation Act and Reg 111 of the Air Transportation Regulations, they do have to consider all passengers and only change fares in a reasonable way. Reasonable has a different interpretation beyond a Charter Violation.

As a pet owner, (who will still take my drugged cat as carry-on on WestJet if I ever have to move with her again) I think that Air Canada's no pets policy was unreasonable. An increased tariff to actually recoup the added costs would be more reasonable than an outright ban and better balance Air Canada's financial interests with those of their passengers.

CYOW + CYVR said...

AC has never given pet owners a free ride for pet carriage. Up to the point that AC prohibited live baggage, they charged a substantial fee to cover the costs of special handling. Further, when AC allowed the carriage of pets as hand luggage, they charged fees for the privilege even though carried pets incur no cost to the airline. Surcharges and price gouging definitely aren't free rides.

The moral right of the government to dictate terms of service to Air Canada stems from the principle that AC is using the public airways for the private gain of AC's owners. The government has both a moral right and a moral duty to ensure that those who use public resources for private gain do so in accordance with the public interest.

Aviatrix said...

Thanks, lawyer-people. So, could the CTA demand that Westjet continue to allow UMs, or prevent Canadian North from removing combi service to Yellowknife? Delivery services use public streets. Does that mean the government can overturn a company policy on what one of those companies won't deliver?

I had never heard of the concept of "public airways" before. I thought it was just air, and that people paid for the use of facilities through taxes, Nav Canada fees and so on.

Anonymous said...

"Seems like this disclaimer applies not only to cats. I seem to experience much of the above myself when I get out of my seat in Y class after a red-eye or a long-haul. For reasons not yet completely explained by scientists, this effect seems to be worse when going eastward..."

That's because when you travel eastward -- say, San Francisco to Paris -- you arrive the next day, whereas when traveling Paris to San Francisco, you arrive at practically the same time you left. Or so it seems. :>)

And, Aviatrix, cats are NOT interchangeable. I carried my
two kittens as hand luggage from Kansas City to SFO. They had to pay not only a pet fee, but also the phone reservation fee. I'd hate to have them travel as either luggage or cargo.


zb said...

majroj -- "Could even result in gender change or pregnancy." I would love to see the actual form at the baggage handling counter where you could indicate all of these options by checking litte boxes -- as in:

Please help us resolving your problem by providing additional information concerning your checked item. Please limit your answer to any three (max).

[] lost
[] broken
[] personality change
[] weight loss/gain
[] unusual colour
[] wrong gender
[] pregnant

dpierce said...

CYOW + CYVR said...

> ... to ensure that those who
> use public resources for private
> gain do so in accordance with
> the public interest.

This is fascinating, and I can see the truth in it, but doesn't it leave a giant gray area? (I guess most things in the law are intentionally giant gray areas, but anwyay.)

For example, could the government then require FedEx trucks (which use the public roads) to occassionally pick up and drop off bulk postal mail (if the route endpoints happen to line up)? FedEx operates on public roads for private gain, and it would be in the public interest to run fewer government postal trucks if the load can be carried "space available" by FedEx.

(I already know how some are going to respond -- I'm not talking about delivery of postal mail to the consumer -- I'm talking about bulk delivery of mail carried by large trucks from one major mail center to another.)

James said...

The key in this situation is to look at the statute in the act and the regulations.

s.66 of the CTA

and s.111 of the Air Transport Regulations

These regulations basically say that if an airline changes a fare policy, it has to be reasonable. So, under these regualtions at least, if it someone complained, and it was found that WestJet's policy to not transport minors or Canadian North's decision to stop combi service to YZF was an unreasonable or discriminatory tariff change, then theoretically, the board could overturn that decision.

BUT, and this is a Sir-Mix-A-Lot big BUT - what is reasonable is a relatively low threshold. So, if Westjet said "look we're losing money hand over fist to transport unaccompanied minors, and we've set up a policy where someone who travels with them gets a discounted ticket" the board would likely say "yes, that's reasonable".

In Air Canada's case, it was just a matter of degrees. While you as a non-pet lover might think it would be completely reasonable to not include pets, I think that you can at least agree that for many people they have different qualities than non-living cargo.

Air Canada's decision was unreasonable in the circumstances. The board isn't saying "Even if you lose tens of thousands of dollars a flight you have to carry pets no matter what" - what they are saying is that the way Air Canada chose to alter their policy did not reasonably take into consideration the needs of the travelling public.

As for the broader policy considerations dealing with public resources, it must be kept in mind that there are both political and legal aspects at work. Theoretically, the gov't could pass laws requiring FedEx to take mail as long as those laws don't violate the Constitution. BUT, gov't likely wouldn't because of the political reprecussions. It would not be popular and the politicans would want to keep their jobs.

In this case however, the gov't has passed the Canadian Tranportation Act where the policy is that "ok, we want good economic competition, but these decisions still have a public policy aspect to them, therefore, when you raise fares or tariffs, it has to be done in a reasonable way."

CYOW + CYVR said...

Conditions of use for public resources are a fairly well established concept.

For example, the conditions to use the airspace over our collective heads are that your aircraft must be airworthy and your pilot/pilots must be qualified and fit to fly. The government deemed that it was in the public interest for aviation to be regulated for safety reasons; as a result we're all stuck with Transport Canada.

It is a little unusual to require an airline to carry pets, but the right to do so stems from the same basic idea--regulation in the public interest--that underlies licensing requirements.

The only real limitations on what either level of government can require as a condition of use for public resources are those limitations imposed by the Supreme Court's interpretation of the constitution and limits of public tolerance set by the ballot box.

A hypothetical law which forced FedEx to carry mail at a loss would probably violate Charter protections against unreasonable seizure.

Sue said...

Way back in 1976, I flew commercial from Buffalo (KBUF) to Phoenix (KPHX) with my gerbil. The airline did not seem at all concerned that I had a caged rodent as a carry-on item. I have also flown commercial with a kitten and chickens with me in the passenger cabin (PHNL to PHLI). I rather doubt this was legal but I think those flight attendants were used to people traveling with their prized animals (cockfighting was popular in the Islands) and looked the other way. Of course, all this was long before 9/11. My cat probably thinks I am interchangeable, but I still adore him. If he had to fly somewhere, I would be willing to buy him a ticket so he could sit quietly in his carrier in the cabin (though I guess he could not necessarily be an unaccompanied minor).

Soaring Student said...

Greetings from halfway between Phoenix and Ottawa, where I'm driving my mom's car back from PHX. My mom (and her dog) flew from PHX to Calgary, and will shortly fly from Calgary to Ottawa.

It's getting to be a pain to fly a pet. Westjet won't fly pets out of Phoenix after April 1 (risk of high heat), AC won't fly pets in the hold on certain aircraft, AC won't fly pets on domestic flights but will on international flights and both legs of Phoenix-Toronto-Ottawa are considered international. Neither airline will take pets for a 4-week period around Christmas, when the holds (and seats) are full.

So she's flying AC from Phoenix to Calgary, and flying Westjet from Calgary to Ottawa. Interestingly, her ticket cost double on AC what it does on Westjet.... and AC charges $105 for the dog while Westjet charges $50.

Passenger loyalty - hah. Despite the efforts of the marketing departments, airline travel (within an equivalent class of carriers - don't mix Aeroflot and Singapore Airlines) is approaching a commodity purchase... and consumers will vote with the chequebooks.

Anonymous said...

After flying our cat in cargo and cabin for the last umpteen years we finally bought a Cirrus and the cat happily sits in her cage under a towel in the back seat. She was born to fly and much prefers flying to car travel.

o said...

I agree with zb. Obviously Aviatrix' policy is already in effect, but on passengers.

Passengers travelling in the opposite directions are simply switched, saving the companies the costs associated with having airplanes, pilots, fuel and all that. Just the simple process of brainwashing remains.

dpierce said...

Interesting comments. You both referenced political pressure as a major counterbalance in the process. Thanks.

JeffS said...

Wait until you have kids, and then you get to listen to people tell you that their dog is, "JUST as important as a child!" I agree with the notion that life is to be valued, and I love dogs and cats plenty, but they don't rise to the level of a person, in my eyes.

I have, over the years, given many a dog or cat in a kennel on the ramp a refill of water, or a fresh batch of newspapers for a floor. They do usually look miserable, except for the puppies, who just want to visit with you via happy yips and licks! Personally, I would kennel my pet at a reputable facility near home rather than travel with it unless I was going to be gone for more than a couple of weeks.

Richard said...

I think you are 100% right! I chose to live with a four footed friend. I accept that my foreign travel will be by road. My choice - perhaps it limits my freedom, but I, surely, have that right? Equally Air Canada has every right to chose to fly two footed pax, only? For the courts to interfere is daft.