Tuesday, April 25, 2017

Canada to pass legislation on over-booking flights

After the outpouring of anger over a United Airlines passenger who was injured when he was forcibly removed from a flight, the Canadian government announced that it will pass legislation to address the problem.

A spokesperson for Transport Minister Marc Garneau, Marc Roy, said that rules about bumping will be included in an air passenger bill of rights. The bill had been promised last fall. The bill will require clear minimum requirements for compensation when flights are oversold or luggage is lost. Roy however did not say whether the legislation would set industry-wide standards or whether the compensation levels would be raised to match those in the United States or Europe.
Garneau, the Transport Minister, would not comment directly on the United Airlines incident in Chicago. He said he did not know if a passenger in Canada can be removed due to overbooking. Garneau said: “I certainly have seen what happened in the case of the United Airlines flight and that is why last November I announced that we would be putting in place what we call a regime of rights for passengers. We recognize that when a passenger books a ticket, they are entitled to certain rights.”
Gabor Lukacs, a passenger rights advocate, said the troubling video showing the forcible removal of the United Airline passenger showed the need for greater protection of the traveler. Lukacs said: “Sadly, people realize what bumping actually means only when an incident so extreme happens." Lukas said all airlines should be forced to have the same compensation limits rising to a maximum of $1,500 in line with the US. In 2013 Lukacs won a Canadian Transportation Agency case against Air Canada which required the airline to raise compensation to a maximum of $800 depending on the length of delay.
The usual reason for a person being forcibly removed from a flight is that they are drunk or regarded as a threat. However, Lukacs pointed out:“If for any reason the airline tells you you need to leave, you have to leave. You don’t get a choice, you cannot argue about whether you have to leave or not because it is their aircraft.” Airlines overbook flights as a hedge against people not showing up. However not all airlines do it. Both Westjet Airlines and Air Transat said they do not intentionally overbook flights. Air Canada does but claims that bumping is rare. Spokesperson Peter Fitzpatrick said in an email: “We appreciate this is inconvenient for customers and we do take a very conservative approach to avoid this situation arising and when it does, we pay significant compensation.”
CEO of U.S.-based FareCompare.com, Rick Seaney, said that he had never seen anything such as happened on the United flight. He said that airlines typically raise the amount of compensation until someone volunteers to take a later flight. The Canadian Transportation Agency said it had received 55 complaints about overbooking in 2015-16 which was less than 4 percent of all the complaints filed.
The United Airlines incident that caused all the fuss was a flight from Chicago to Louisville. A United spokesperson said: “Flight 3411 from Chicago to Louisville was overbooked. After our team looked for volunteers, one customer refused to leave the aircraft voluntarily and law enforcement was asked to come to the gate. We apologize for the overbook situation.” The Chicago Department of Aviation(CDA) officers dragged the man off the plane. Karen Pride, spokesperson for the CDA said: “The incident on United flight 3411 was not in accordance with our standard operating procedure and the actions of the aviation security officer are obviously not condoned by the Department. That officer has been placed on leave effective today pending a thorough review of the situation.”
Joseph D'Cruz, of the Rotman School of Management at the University of Toronto said that airlines overbook to save money:“Airlines overbook because very often people book a flight and then don’t show up. It’s called a no show. And the no-show rate can vary depending on the route. So in order to protect themselves from having empty seats on the plane, they overbook.” In Canada the federal government has not mandated any sort of compensation for those who are bumped D'Cruz said. Airlines apparently offer whatever is sufficient to entice a person to give up their seat. The United airlines case shows how few rights the traveler has.
United's Contract of Carriage says:"If a flight is Oversold, no one may be denied boarding against his/her will until UA or other carrier personnel first ask for volunteers who will give up their reservations willingly in exchange for compensation as determined by UA. If there are not enough volunteers, other Passengers may be denied boarding involuntarily in accordance with UA’s boarding priority." Passengers with disabilities, and minors under 18 will be the last to denied boarding. United policy further states: "The priority of all other confirmed passengers may be determined based on a passenger’s fare class, itinerary, status of frequent flyer program membership, and the time in which the passenger presents him/herself for check-in without advanced seat assignment." In the United States the biggest US airlines bumped 475,054 passengers from flights in 2016.

Friday, April 21, 2017

Trudeau flip flops to join Trump on Syria attack

(April 7) At first, when many countries jumped on the US bandwagon blaming Assad for the apparent chemical attack in a town near Idlib in Syria, Canada took a common sense cautious approach as an investigation into the incident had not yet even been started.

Trudeau said that the international community had to do more to investigate the the Syrian chemical attack. He roundly condemned the attack that killed more than 70 including children. Trudeau said: "We're all shocked and horrified by the terrible images and actions that just happened in Syria with chemical weapons." Trudeau said the Canadian government 'obviously, unequivocally" condemned the attack and "pushed the international community to do more to condemn, to find out what's going on." He did not blame Assad as the U.S. and others had already done.
Yet after Trump unilaterally, without waiting for a UN resolution or investigation, fired Tomahawk missiles at a Syrian airbase, Trudeau came out in support of his action. Trudeau said that Canada was briefed in advance, about an hour before the U.S. missile strikes on the Syrian airbase. He said U.S. Secretary of State, James Mattis, called Canadian Defence Minister, Harjit Sajjan, Thursday night and Sajjan immediately briefed Trudeau.
For some strange reason, Trudeau's account contradicts what Trump's Press Secretary Sean Spicer had to say. Spicer said: "Missiles were launched at 7:40 p.m. during dinner. Foreign leaders and congressional leaders were notified starting at 8:30 p.m., just as first impacts were hitting the ground." It seems a bit odd if Canada had been warned ahead of other nations but Trudeau repeated his claim in a later speech. Trudeau also said that Canada would continue its mission in northern Iraq but that the government would continue to work to see how it could help in Syria.
Trudeau had a phone conversation with Trump on Friday morning. Trudeau told Trump that Canada fully supports the "limited and focused action to degrade the Syrian regime's ability to conduct chemical weapons attacks". Conservative MP Pierre Polievre during question period in the House of Commons, claimed that were inconsistencies in the Trudeau governments' response to what has happened. On Thursday, Trudeau had suggested there were continuing questions about who exactly was responsible for the attack and that the UN Security Council should launch an investigation into who was responsible. Polievre said Trudeau's rapid change of position shows Canada had been "completely out of the loop" on developments in the region. Polievre said: "Now [Trudeau] says he fully supports the United States's unilateral missile strikes against the Assad regime. The government's position seems to change with the wind." It was not exactly the wind but the phone call from Trump on Friday that changed the policy. On Thursday, Trudeau had been "out of the loop" not realizing that like other U.S. allies he was supposed to blame Assad before any investigation as the U.S. and shortly after many U.S. allies had done.
Trudeau's story is that the U.S. had provided him with information about the attack: "Secretary Mattis called Defence Minister Harjit Sajjan to confirm that Bashar al-Assad and his regime were responsible for the horrific attacks on civilians of a few days ago. A trusted and reliable ally in the United States informed us that the Assad regime was responsible for these chemical attacks." Sajjan told the House that Assad's repeated use of chemical weapons must not continue. Canada was back in the loop, accepting the U.S. narrative before any investigation and not questioning the missile attacks but supporting them. Maybe Trump will call and thank him.
Interim Conservative leader, Rona Ambrose, of the main opposition party also supported the missile strikes saying: "The global community cannot sit idly by while deadly nerve toxins are unleashed on innocent civilians." Murray Rankin of the NDP said the Assad regime must be held responsible for these shocking crimes. An NDP statement on its website is somewhat more reticent about blaming Assad already. A CBC article discusses viewers questions with Brian Stewart an award-winning Canadian journalist.

Tuesday, April 11, 2017

Saskatchewan's 70-year old provincial bus service to shut down

Employees cried and passengers were angry when they learned last Wednesday that the provincial government of Brad Wall had decided to shut down the 70-year-old bus service.

The Saskatchewan Transportation Company is a provincial crown corporation:
The Saskatchewan Transportation Company (STC) is a Crown Corporation of the Government of Saskatchewan, created in 1946 by an Order in Council. It is a wholly owned subsidiary of Crown Investments Corporation of Saskatchewan, with a mandate to provide bus services carrying people and freight between major centres and to as much of the rural population as possible.Freight services will be terminated on May 19 and passenger services by May 31. The closure will see 224 people lose their jobs and hundreds of rural Saskatchewan communities without any bus service. The province of Manitoba to the east already faces that situation. There is no service on highway 16, the Yellowhead, that runs from Winnipeg to Saskatoon, through much of Western Manitoba. Our main bus service is Greyhound Lines with offices in Austin Texas and owned in Scotland by FirstGroup. Any service that is not profitable is discontinued. The idea that a bus service might be operated to serve all areas of the province is a non-starter. This was the case even under our former supposedly socialist New Democratic Party (NDP) government. We now have a Conservative government and the issue will not even be discussed. The Saskatchewan Party government of premier Brad Wall in Saskatchewan is also conservative. Now they too will enjoy Greyhound as their main bus service. There is no money to be made providing transportation to the small towns of Saskatchewan except on a few main highways so they will all be without service.
Norquay resident, Cara Severson, said: "I can't believe this. I don't know what I'm going to do, I won't be traveling any more. It's going to be quite a nightmare. You guys don't know what you're doing to small communities. Think about the little people." She hoped that Premier Wall could reconsider the decision. A Nigerian immigrant did not know how she would bring her daughter into Saskatoon for medical treatment. An elderly Saskatoon woman who took the bus to the Manitou Springs Resort and Mineral Spa near the small town of Watrous said she will simply not be able to go there anymore.
Tareq Sunny of Yorkton takes the bus every month on business and said: "It's shutting down forever? My life is shutting down." While the decision is estimated to save the province about 17 million a year it also ends over 200 jobs and deprives many, in rural Saskatchewan especially, of a valuable transportation service. Only two of STC's 27 different routes are profitable. No doubt carriers such as Greyhound will service these routes while the 25 other routes will simply be without service.
New Democratic Party critic Cathy Sproule said that the loss of STC would have a negative impact on seniors in rural areas and people who depended on the bus service for medical appointments and deliveries. Sproule said: "We have a minister who promised a year ago that they wouldn't be touching STC because of the valuable service it provides." A survey of customers in the STC's latest annual report showed that 93 percent of customers were satisfied and 95 percent of parcel customers.Jennifer Campeau who was minister in charge of STC in 2016 said: "By linking communities, people and businesses, STC serves the customer and the shareholder. STC provides citizens with access to essential services in larger and rural communities. Entrepreneurs across the province have access to shipping services that can supply parts or distribute products, expanding markets beyond their local community." Even though the passenger service is to continue until May many routes were cancelled just hours before the announcement of STC's termination was announced in the budget. Apparently the cancellations were made to allow management to meet with STC staff, a move that shows no concern about customers.

Sunday, April 2, 2017

Toronto District School Board cancels all new trips to the United States

The Toronto District School Board is canceling all new planned school trips to the United States until further notice due to the uncertainty with respect to whom could be affected by Trump's latest travel restrictions.

The Girl Guides of Canada and other school boards have halted travel to the U.S. The Windsor School board implemented a ban back on February 11th as reported in a Digital Journal article. The new ban replacing an earlier one bans travel to the U.S. from Syria, Iran, Libya, Somalia, Sudan and Yemen unless the travelers have already been issued valid visas. However, as with the first ban, the new version is suspended pending several court challenges. The ban is to last 90 days.
In a statement released on Thursday, March 23rd, John Malloy, Director of Education said that the board faced a difficult choice: "We strongly believe that our students should not be placed into these situations of potentially being turned away at the border. For the planned trips that will be continuing, should students with the appropriate documentation be denied entry to the U.S. for no legitimate reason, the entire trip will return to Toronto and will not proceed." The board has 246,000 students in 584 schools throughout Toronto.If the U.S. travel restrictions are fully implemented, the school board said that even pre-approved trips would be cancelled.
A few individuals from the countries on the ban list will still be eligible to enter the U.S. if they are dual nationals travelling on a passport from a country not on the list or if they are legal permanent residents of the U.S. Iraq has been removed from the second list of banned countries. The Ottawa-Carleton District school board sent a letter to parents asking them if they thought upcoming trips to the U.S. should go ahead.
Roy Bird, spokesperson for the Toronto board told the Canadian Broadcasting System (CBC) that the ban would be in place until further notice. When asked whether the ban was a political statement he said: "I think this is about the information that we have in front of us. I think it's about the equity and inclusion angle. I'm not naive to say that it doesn't make a statement, but the decision is not being made as a statement." He said the main concern of the board was that students would not be turned away at the border even if they had the necessary documentation. Bird noted: "We have heard anecdotal stories of the executive order, in some cases when it was in place before, preventing people even with the appropriate documentation from crossing the border, and we don't want to put our students in that position. What we're saying is if this executive order is fully implemented, it could cause problems."
Toronto District School Board (TDSB) chair, Robin Pilkey said that there were 25 previously organized trips involving 900 students that will go ahead as planned. He said if any students with proper documentation are turned back the whole group will return. Pilkey said: "We're committed as a school board to equity, inclusiveness and fairness, and it's not appropriate that some students would not be able to attend based on their country of birth." While some families are asking why all trips were not cancelled, others are anxious planned trips go ahead. Bird said: "Hundreds of kids have been working months in some cases, fundraising, planning, working hard on competitions to get to where they are, and we don't want them to miss out on those opportunities."