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Competition Bureau to investigate Canadian airline industry following rising complaints

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Following a rise in airline complaints regarding customer service, lost luggage and cancelled and delayed flights, Canada’s Competition Bureau has decided to investigate the Canadian airline industry.

“One of the benefits of competition is to bring downward pressure on prices and that is certainly important to consumers,” said Anthony Durocher, deputy commissioner of the federal agency’s Competition Promotion Branch.

Air Canada and WestJet control about 90 per cent of all flights in Canada, although Porter Airlines has been expanding its fleet and adding destinations.

Lynx Airlines did create competition before it went bankrupt in February of this year, joining Swoop and a long list of other discount airlines that have tried and failed to takeoff in Canada.

With fewer airlines to choose from, there has been an increase in complaints especially with regards to 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 chat bots. If you want to talk to someone, good luck,” said John Gradek, aviation expert with McGill University.

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.

As satisfaction goes down, complaints go up.

“There has been an uptick in consumer complaints over the last couple of years and part of that is driven by a lack of options for consumers," Durocher explained.

Gradek said without more competition, Canadians could be stuck with sub par customer service.

"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, [neither are things like] delays, cancellations,” said Gradek.

The Bureau said 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 until June 17.

It's a lot cheaper to fly within the United States or Europe and Canada’s airline industry does face disadvantages. Gradek said we have a very large country with a relatively small population which makes it challenging for airlines to operate.  

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