My war with Air Canada over charging extra to carry my Strida bike may be coming to an end; the Canada Transportation Agency has asked for an extension to August 31, their second and I hope last. I thought I had it in the bag in May, when they sent a letter demanding a response from Air Canada in ten days:
In the light of the discrepancies in the parties' respective submissions as to the manner in which Mr. Alter's folding bicycle may have been handled, Air Canada is requested to explain the special treatment of Mr. Alter's folding bicycle and to provide evidence, if any, in support of its explanations.
Air Canada is required to provide the agency with the requested information within 10 working days of the receipt of this letter.
I thought I've got'em! There is no way they can prove that it got special treatment, because there is no chain of custody from check-in to where you drop the bag, because in Toronto you carry your own bag through customs and put it on the belt yourself! I'm gonna post about my victory right now!
Sure enough, they came up with a lame response, repeating their tariff rules about why bikes have to be in a rigid case (and leaving out the part of their tariff rules saying they will supply plastic bags if you don't have a hard case).
Then they denied that I was their passenger at all, saying that it was a code share with United Airlines, even though they took my money and charged me the Air Canada bike handling fee.
You can read their response to the ten day challenge: Download Air canada june response
I responded to Air Canada with the following. Now we wait.
CANADIAN TRANSPORTATION AGENCY
Complaints and Investigation Division
Air and Marine Investigations Directorate
15, Eddy Street, 18th Floor
Attention: Ms. Pauline Leclerc
Re: Complaint by Mr. Lloyd Alter against Air Canada
CTA File No. 08-50589
Dear Ms. Leclerc:
I am writing in response to Martine De Serre of Air Canada’s letter of 2 June and address Air Canada’s specific points:
1. General Handling Procedures
Notwithstanding Air Canada’s claims of how my bicycle should have been handled, there is no evidence that it was handled any differently than any other bag accompanying a passenger to the United States, where the passenger carries the bag through American Immigration before depositing it on the belt.
Furthermore Air Canada expresses concern that “kicking the baggage off the main belt may damage the bicycle wheel, or another part of the bicycle.” They continue:
Potential damage to the wheel is one of the reasons for which Air Canada’s tariffs consider bicycles as fragile items, and requires that they be placed in a hard shell container. For example, Rule 195(L)(1)(B) states
B) Conditions of acceptance: Bicycles must have the handlebars fixed sideways and the pedals removed and placed in a rigid and/or hard shell container specifically designed for shipping.
As per this rule, our agents are instructed not to accept bicycles contained in a soft-shell container such as Mr. Alter’s. Under applicable international conventions, Air Canada may be liable for damaged caused to a bicycle....
But Air Canada has neglected to include here the next line in the conditions of acceptance, as listed on their website:
If not packaged in a container, Air Canada will provide a plastic bicycle bag and will accept the item with a signed limited release.
which sort of makes their statement “ Potential damage to the wheel is one of the reasons for which Air Canada’s tariffs consider bicycles as fragile items, and requires that they be placed in a hard shell container.” a bit disingenuous, if not inaccurate.
The “hard shell container specifically designed for shipping” accepted on Air Canada is corrugated cardboard that would not stand up to conventional baggage handling and has to be treated separately, for which Air Canada rightly charges a fee. A folding bike designed for easy transport has folding pedals and handlebars so that they do not protrude and risk being damaged. The case is not solid for a reason: One cannot roll up a solid case and pedal away from the terminal. However it provides superior protection than Air Canada’s cardboard box “hard shell container.”
Under applicable international conventions, Air Canada may be liable for damaged caused to a bicycle.:
Air Canada’s policies for liability are explicitly laid out on their website:
Please note that, subject to the provisions of the Montreal Convention and the Warsaw Convention where applicable, Air Canada assumes no liability for.....sporting goods (tennis rackets, scuba gear, fishing rods, surfboards, sporting trophies such as animal antlers and horns)....
...Despite care in the handling of your baggage, we trust you will understand that we are not responsible for the following: nicks, scratches, missing pullstraps, zipper damage, scuff marks, damage to wheels....
Air Canada is not accepting liability for anything related to sporting goods. Furthermore they expressed no such concerns when I travelled with the expensive bindings on my snowboard, protected only by a very thin unpadded bag. Here again I point out that Air Canada is applying a completely different purported standard of care and concern to folding bikes than they do with other sporting goods like skis, snowboards and golf equipment, which they carry without extra charge.
Specific comments on the case at hand
Air Canada suggests that I did not have a contractual relationship with them; This did not prevent them from charging me fifty dollars, at which point they did have one. In any case, it is not relevant; I am objecting to the principle of charging a fee for a service not provided, for something that does not require special handling or exceed their standards for maximum dimensions and weight for accompanying luggage.
Air Canada also points out the tarriffs on United Airlines and Air Canada, comparing their tariff to their own. They think American Airlines should have charged me $125; American Airlines thought otherwise, and charged $18, their standard surcharge for checked bags. Air Canada also does not list the position of airlines like JetBlue, which when faced with the same situation of folding bikes in January, publicly apologised to a customer and wrote:2
Our bicycle policy has now been updated to reflect that Customers traveling with a folding bikes in a bag that fits within the standard checked bag weights and dimensions (62 inches in overall dimensions and 50 pounds in weight — see our baggage requirements here) will not be charged the Bike fee and will be treated like any checked bag.
3 Irrelevance of the facts alleged
I am completely confused by this paragraph, since Air Canada previously stated that the charge was based on the requirement for special handling, so it would appear obvious to me that they would have to demonstrate that it did indeed receive special handling, or at the very least, that they have any way of even knowing that a bag deposited on a belt by the customer after clearing American immigration is indeed a bicycle. Saying that the tarriff is inapplicable is irrelevant, as they took my money exchange for a service which they cannot prove that they provided.
Notwithstanding all of their statements, Air Canada has not yet given a convincing reason why a bag that complies with their standards for dimension and weight is a different creature than a stroller, a bag of parts, or, for that matter, any other bag that they are carrying.
Nor have they explained why it is not discriminatory to charge for a bike in a bag out of “concern for liability” when they don’t charge for carrying what could be far more expensive skis or snowboards, which in fact do not comply with their rules for dimensions.
If it looks like a bag, does not exceed the dimensions or weight of a bag, is treated like a bag and the handlers on the other side of American Immigration have no way of knowing that it is anything but a bag, It is incomprehensible to me that a customer should be charged extra simply because, as the checkin attendant said, “it’s a bike.”
Regards, Lloyd Alter