Coffee, tea, monopoly?

By Dave McLean

So have you thought about how you’re going to get to Europe this summer if there’s only one major air carrier? Maybe you’re too busy worrying about getting back to school on time with the pending buyout of Canadian Airlines by Air Canada. Of course, since most of us live in Calgary, getting home for the holidays shouldn’t be a problem. As for travellers across this wide nation of ours, there shouldn’t be anything to worry about anyhow.

You see, it was bound to happen. Canadian Airlines with its free-living Western spirit was doomed to fail since day one. Don’t believe me? Try setting up your own military. You might be able to make it better equipped or more efficient, but the red tape (that the Canadian government is good at doling out) would hold you and your men of fortune back from any long-term success. This was the same sort of situation Canadian Airlines ran up against when it started out in the 1920s as Pacific Western Airlines, Canadian Pacific Airlines (CPAir), Nordair, Eastern Provincial Airways, and Wardair Canada.

Air Canada was Ottawa’s little gosling and they’d be damned if they were going to let anybody else have a shot a flying passengers around the country. And so–like they’ve always done and always will–the government forced a pile of bureaucracy on each of the little guys. As the burden of running an airline became harder, men like Max Ward sold out to the bigger lines and got out of the business. Canadian Airlines, as a brand, was established in 1987 as it finished gobbling up smaller competitors, leaving two national carriers: itself and Air Canada.

The sad truth is, Air Canada would be in the same trouble as Canadian if it weren’t for its humble beginnings with the silver spoon full of government money crammed in its mouth.

No one has made money in the domestic airline market for 20 years. With over a dozen direct flights a day to Vancouver by each airline it’s no wonder they’re losing money at home. Canadian and Air Canada are competing so hard that they’ve run each other out of business, the difference being that Air Canada still has money. When Air Canada privatized, they faced virtually none of the start-up costs that ran into the millions for Canadian.

Luckily for them, however, their day has come and now they wait for Canadian to rollover and say, "we quit." So what does this mean for the cost conscious student traveller? Not much, really. There are still competitors fighting over air superiority and, chances are, there will still be seat sales.

Don’t get me wrong, I’m disappointed by the loss of a corporate headquarters here in Calgary, but I’m not going to lose sleep over it. The airline industry has a lot more going for it than Canadian and Air Canada. There are several international charter companies that fly as often as the scheduled airlines, and WestJet airlines will surely be pushing eastward as Air Canada sets up its own discount airline in Hamilton. Look on the bright side, WestJet is a company with its roots in Calgary and it will probably soak up the best of Canadian, once the dust has settled.

So really we’re getting back to the basics: a profitable domestic airline with some outside competition, a profitable international airline with a few competitors and satisfied consumers who still have a choice. Now that’s what I call a bargain.

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