Please fasten your seatbelts - Macleans.ca

Please fasten your seatbelts

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This morning Air Canada said it will lay off 2,000 employees as it grapples with soaring fuel costs. The airline is also reducing its capacity by an overall average of 7 per cent, with capacity on flights to the U.S. cut by 13 per cent.

If this all seems eerily familiar, there’s good reason. It was only in 2003, with the U.S. gearing up for war in Iraq, that Air Canada invoked “force majeure” to lay off 3,600 workers. This oil-triggered round of layoffs is arguably much deeper. For one thing, Air Canada is a far leaner operation than it was back then. It’s total workforce, at 24,000, is nearly one-third smaller than it was in 2003.

Nor is this likely the end of the pain.

According to an Air Canada statement, high oil prices will cost the company $1 billion more this year than in 2007. And that’s with the price of oil at $140 a barrel. With many experts projecting crude could hit $200, it’s hard to imagine the company is finished slashing jobs.

So it strikes me as somewhat odd to see the Feds planning to introduce a passenger’s bill of rights. Don’t get me wrong, I’ve had run ins with flight attendants in this country who make that stewardess with the nicotine fit seem downright heart warming. But if Ottawa really wants to do something to improve service and lower fares, it should start by scrapping restrictions on foreign takeovers and reigning in skyrocketing airport fees at Pearson, which are the highest in the world. A bill of rights is an easy way to score political points, but not when the industry is literally fighting for its survival.

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