First rule of Flight Club: Do not talk about flight flubs | Marcel Strigberger

By Marcel Strigberger

Law360 Canada (August 12, 2022, 10:37 AM EDT) --
Marcel Strigberger
Marcel Strigberger
We are experiencing more than expected flight cancelations and delays. So sorry. Good excuse to follow. Continue to enjoy the airport ambiance. Did we say we were sorry yet?

Thousands of Air Canada passengers have lodged complaints to the Air Passenger Protection Regulations (APPR) requesting compensation as a result of Air Canada’s massive flight disruptions. The airline is trying to use what it believes is a loophole to avoid compensating passengers, by claiming the problems stem from COVID-19 related staff shortage which in turn have resulted in safety related issues, justifying the schedule changes.

Interestingly the Canadian Transportation Agency (CTA), a quasi-judicial federal body, notes that a disruption caused by a crew shortage should not be considered “required for safety purposes” when it is the carrier which caused the safety issue as a result of its own actions.

By linking staff shortages to safety issues, Air Canada reminds me of that scene in Lewis Carroll’s Through the Looking Glass, where Humpty Dumpty says, “When I choose a word it means just what I choose it to mean …”

If the airline can stretch self-induced staff shortages into safety issues, what other events might Air Canada claim have also morphed into this red flag situation? Where is this going?

How about the pilot can’t find their hat? Safety issue no-brainer. Who in his right mind wants to fly on an aircraft with a hatless captain? Flight to Paris is cancelled. Bonjour. Phew!

Or the aircraft is out of hand sanitizer? You board this plane at your peril. Flight delayed two hours until the purser returns with a bottle of Purell from Costco. Aircraft should be good to go then. Stay tuned for further announcements.  

And what might really create a safety issue at this rate is a defect in that curtain separating economy from first class. Curtain is jammed and does not close. Would you feel safe on an aircraft like that? Give me turbulence instead, anytime. Send this defective heap of metal back to Boeing. I can’t think of a more compelling reason to cancel this flight. OK, maybe one as compelling; the one about that pilot’s hat.

Of interest European Union regulations do not exclude safety reasons from situations requiring compensation in the event of cancellations or delays. Payouts are precluded only as a result of “extraordinary circumstances,” such as weather or political instability.

Then again in my view this small window for allowing compensation swings a bit too far the other way. I think there should be some consideration for the integrity of the airplane. I would consider it an extraordinary circumstance in the event of a delay or cancellation if the airline says there is a possible risk at an altitude of 35,000 feet for the aircraft to suddenly start randomly ejecting passengers. This is even worse than that defective curtain. I would have no problem cutting the airline some slack on this one. (Query if the situation is different if passengers in first class are the only ones at risk of being ejected.)

However, as a lawyer, I think it only fair to voice Air Canada’s position on the matter. The airline disagrees with any characterization that it does not care about its customers. It suggests what the system is facing are “operational hiccups.” It notes that it has more employees proportionate to its flying schedule now than before COVID. 

I suppose if this is the case and it has hired all these employees, then it does not have a staff shortage. And if there is no staff shortage there is no safety issue.

As another character in Through the Looking Glass, Tweedledee, said, “If it was so, it might be; and if it were so, it would be; but as it isn’t, it ain’t. That’s logic.” 

Does Air Canada’s explanation fly?

Hey Mad Hatter. Get that pilot another hat.

Marcel Strigberger retired from his Greater Toronto Area litigation practice and continues the more serious business of humorous author and speaker. His book Boomers, Zoomers, and Other Oomers: A Boomer-biased Irreverent Perspective on Aging is now available in paper and e-book versions where books are sold. Visit Follow him @MarcelsHumour.

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