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Majority of Canadians say airline industry operates like ‘cartel’: survey

An Air Canada flight makes its final approach as it lands at Pearson International Airport in Toronto on Sept. 30, 2004. (THE CANADIAN PRESS/Adrian Wyld)

Nearly two-thirds of Canadians say that the airline industry operates like a “cartel” and less than 10 per cent say service has improved over the last decade, according to a new survey.

The data comes from a poll by the Angus Reid Institute, a Vancouver-based public opinion researcher, released Monday.

The online poll, which surveyed a random sample of 1,533 adults between May 24 and 28, found that Canadians are disappointed by the lack of competition in the airline industry, which is dominated by the big two – Air Canada and WestJet.

The poll found that 65 per cent of Canadians believe the airline industry operates as a cartel by limiting competition and jacking up prices.

A report by released earlier this month ranked Canada 65th out of 80 countries based on the average cost of both short- and long-haul flights.

A further 44 per cent of respondents say in-flight service has also gotten worse over the last decade. While just nine per cent say it has improved.

Both Air Canada and WestJet scored below the industry average in J.D. Power’s customer satisfaction survey published in May.

However, there could be good news for consumers on the horizon.

Some experts predicted that Flair Airlines purchase of discount flight seller NewLeaf Travel Company last week could lead to greater competition and force the two major airlines to slash their prices.

The survey also polled Americans on the same questions and found that a similar frustration exists – albeit to a lesser degree.

A majority of respondents (58 per cent) from south of the border, where there are six major carriers, also say that there are cartel-like conditions and 38 per cent say service has seen a decrease in quality over the last 10 years.

(The Angus Reid Institute)

“Americans, perhaps buoyed by greater domestic choice, are slightly more positive, but still inclined to believe things have worsened overall,” said the Angus Reid report.

While the report indicates that airfare costs, when adjusted for inflation, have actually dropped over the past two decades, added fees for a variety of in-flight amenities and external factors — such checked bags, Wi-Fi, food, headsets, airport improvements, security and fuel surcharges – have left passengers feeling dissatisfied.

(The Angus Reid Institute)

A vast majority of respondents (76 per cent of Canadians and 66 per cent of Americans) also indicate that headline-grabbing incidents — such as the violent removal of a passenger from an overbooked United Airlines flight in April and the subsequent bumping of a 10-year-old P.E.I. boy from an overbooked Air Canada plane – point to widespread issues in the industry.

(The Angus Reid Institute)

And Canadians want their governments to step in to prevent these types of incidents from happening.

(The Angus Reid Institute)

Nearly two-thirds of respondents (63 per cent) say they want the government to implement stricter regulation, while 37 per cent indicate markets forces will “punish” those that provide poor service.

Last month, the federal government unveiled a new passenger bill of rights that will ban the bumping of people from flights against their will.

Transportation Minister Marc Garneau said he wants the legislation in place by 2018.