Vanessa Farquharson during interview
As airlines scramble to make themselves greener -- usually with low-emission fleets, airport retrofits and suggestions that customers bring their own headphones -- some of the easiest, most significant changes are getting left by the wayside.
One of these is the surcharge on folding bicycles, which many people bring to avoid taking cabs on either end of their journey. Whether it's a Strida or a Brompton, the bikes collapse to standard luggage size and weight. When transported in a carrying case, it's no different than any other bag and demands no special handling.
But Lloyd Alter, a Toronto writer and owner of a yellow Strida, recently had to pay $50 to Air Canada after checking in for a flight to New York and telling the ticket agent that his luggage contained a bicycle.
"I was going to do what I always do on Porter," he says. "I check the bike and have one carry-on item, my backpack."
Because the policy dictates that bicycles require special handling at a fee of $50, regardless of whether they fold up or not, Mr. Alter relented and paid the price.
"But then I had to throw the bike on the same conveyor belt as everyone else," he says, "and at the other end, it came out on the carousel along with the other suitcases -- no special treatment."
After filing a complaint, the Canada Transport Agency got involved and then decided it wasn't going to interfere with the case after all, arguing that "air carriers should have the flexibility to establish their terms and conditions of carriage and to price their services as they see fit."
Mr. Alter had hoped that Air Canada would follow the lead of other airlines such as Jet-Blue, which has just rewritten its policy on bikes to accommodate the folding variety.
"VIA Rail has adapted to this, transit buses have adapted," he says, "and the company says it isn't discriminatory, but it is. You can send your skiis, snowboards and strollers on to a plane at no charge -- even a hockey bag that weighs a ton and is oversized. Not a folding bike, though."
As for Air Canada's plans to revise its policy, a company spokesperson said: "There is no plan at the moment to do so. However, we do watch trends and developments in the industry quite closely."
Mr. Alter's next date with the airline is Nov. 15, when he flies to San Francisco. "I'm still deciding whether to take the bike or not," he says. "If I do, and they ask what's in my bag, I'll just say sporting equipment."