My War Against Air Canada's Bike Rules Turns Into War of Attrition

Back in January, when Jetblue passenger Carl Larson got hit with a $50 charge for his folding bike, he fought back, got the story on Consumerist, and Jetblue folded as fast as my Strida, noting:

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.

Not so in my war against Air Canada over the same charges. This thing never ends.I always travel with my Strida folding bike, and never had a problem until I flew Air Canada to Boston for the Greenbuild conference last fall. As I reported in an earlier post:

I go to check in and the attendant asks "what's that?" I say a folding bike. She says "I have to charge you 50 bucks, we have a charge for bikes." I say that I understand, bikes are usually big and awkward but this folds up and is in a case and is under weight and maximum bag dimensions. And it is a folding bike, not a regular bike, designed for travelling. She says "nope, it's a bike and you have to pay." I ask if they charge for snowboards, which are longer than the bike. "Nope." I ask if they charge for skis, which are much longer than the bike and awkward. She says "nope" I ask her why she is charging me. "Because it's a bike."


My strida in its bag

I complained to Air Canada, and got an unsatisfactory answer:

Air Canada's baggage policy deals with sporting equipment, and as such, bicycles fall into that category. We do not differentiate between a folding bicycle and a tandem bicycle. They are all treated the same. In order to provide fair and consistent service to all passengers, we ask our agents to strictly adhere to the baggage policy.

Air Canada's current policy is the collection of handling fees for bicycles. Respectfully, we have to decline your request for a refund. While we understand that you are disappointed, we must remain fair and consistent with our handling of similar requests for all customers. (my emphasis)

More detail: Air Canada to Intermodal Cyclists: Drop Dead

In Canada, the airlines are regulated by the Canadian Transportation Agency, so I filed an official complaint. This got a 22 page response from Air Canada, (you can download a PDF of it here)

I responded to it as follows:

By Email
The Secretary
CANADIAN TRANSPORTATION AGENCY
Complaints and Investigation Division
Air and Marine Investigations Directorate
15, Eddy Street, 18th Floor
Hull/Ottawa, Canada
K1A 0N9

Attention: Ms. Pauline Leclerc
Re: Complaint by Mr. Lloyd Alter against Air Canada
CTA File No. 08-50589

Dear Ms. Leclerc:

I have reviewed the letter dated February 11, 2009 from Martine De Serres, Counsel, Regulatory and International for Air Canada. I take issue with the following points:

1) The letter reads:

"Air Canada's handling fee is actually based on additional handling procedures required for certain items, including bicycles.

Indeed, bicycles usually require special care as they must be specifically picked up at the check-in counter or oversized area and hand-delivered to the baggage room, unlike other baggage, where are sent down the baggage belt. Again upon arrival, they are specifically hand-delivered to a special oversized belt or drop off. In some airports, this process can be quite tedious and time consuming, and implies the removal of a staff member from the baggage room, a distraction from this employee's normal tasks for a special assignment to the handling of a bicycle. Consequently it is not "improper" or inordinate" for Air Canada to charge a fee for this special service.....

Items that that do not require special handling or that are not subject to special procedures are not subject to additional handling fees. (emphasis mine) Golf and skis, for example, can generally be sent down the oversize belt at most airports, as there is a straight belt. However, bicycles do not fit or cannot be sent down the belt and usually require someone from the baggage room to come and pick up the item at departure, and hand-deliver it upon arrival."

As I have noted, the Strida bicycle that I travel with was designed to fit within the maximum limits set for baggage, is in a padded case, is sent down the belt like any other baggage on American and Porter Airlines, and does not require any special handling beyond what might be given for skis, snowboards or golf clubs. It was designed around these parameters. Therefore none of the above applies. But my most serious disagreement is reserved for a later paragraph:

"For obvious operational reasons, Air Canada airport agents must treat all special items in accordance with Air Canada's policy regarding the items of its category, regardless of any special characteristics an item may have. Thus, our agents must treat all bicycles in accordance with our policy applicable to bicycles, regardless of whether they are foldable, and regardless of their weight and size. Check-in agents are not in a position to know whether folding bicycles require the same handling than [sic] a more traditional bicycle, nor are they in a position to know what size and weight a bicycle stops being subject to special handling. Consequently Air Canada must treat all bicycles in the same manner." (emphasis mine)

Check-in Agents deal with an almost infinite variety of bags and boxes of all sizes and are completely familiar with the use of the scales right there at check-in and no doubt reject or charge special handling fees for items that exceed 32 kg (70lbs) or exceed 292 cm (115 in) in combined dimensions. Check-in agents are therefore perfectly capable of knowing what size and weight a folding bicycle is.

If a bag is presented that meets these rules and can travel down the belt without special handling, the fact that it is a bicycle is completely irrelevant. Then neither argument presented by M. De Serres makes sense.

In fact, in this particular incident, the check-in agent didn't even know what was in the bag, and had to ask. After I was charged for the handling of the bag, I deposited it on the same belt as all of the other luggage, and it came down the same ramp and landed on the carousel with all of the other luggage. On my return flight to Terminal 3 on American Airlines, it hit the carousel in the midst of conventional luggage, so Pearson Airport luggage handlers appear to have treated it like conventional luggage. At least at the portion of its journey visible to me, it received no special handling.

I was travelling with a bag that met all of Air Canada's restrictions on size and weight and was packaged in a fashion that required no special handling and so far as I can tell, did not receive any. None of the conditions that merit special handling fees applied; there were no operational constraints, and no special handling requirements. It was a bag. The fact that it contains a special folding bike is almost completely beside the point.

I thank you for your consideration of this issue. I have pursued this because I carry the bike for environmental reasons, to reduce the carbon footprint of my travelling. (I also buy carbon offsets from Air Canada for every flight). Air Canada makes a big splash about their environmental commitment and it just seems so hypocritical to charge a tariff just because, as the agent said, "its a bike". Except when it looks like a bag, is no bigger than a bag, weighs no more than a bag, and needs no more handling than a bag, it should be treated as a bag.

Regards, Lloyd Alter

On May 19 I thought it was just about over when I received a copy of a letter to Air Canada from the Canadian Transport Agency that included:


Air Canada has made general submissions but has not introduced any evidence, nor has it addressed this particular situation. As well, Air Canada has not had the opportunity to address the new information found in Mr. Alter's reply including his assertion that the agent had to ask what was in the bag, and that the bag meets the dimensional requirements of a piece of luggage (weight and size)

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!

But I consulted with one of our writers who studied law and he said wait, it isn't over yet, and sure enough, before the deadline passed, I got a request from the Agency requesting an extension to August 31. So if you care about the issue and want to have your voice heard in support of the cause, write:

Pauline Leclerc
Agente, Enquêtes/Investigation Officer
Enquêtes aériennes et maritimes/Air and Marine Investigations
Direction des différends ferroviaire, aérien et maritime/
Rail, Air and Marine Disputes Directorate
Téléphone/Telephone: 819-956-9791
Télécopieur/Facsimile: 819-953-7910
ATS/TTY 800-669-5575
1-888-222-2592
Courriel/Email: pauline.leclerc@cta-otc.gc.ca
Office des transports du Canada | 15, rue Eddy, Gatineau QC K1A 0N9
Canadian Transportation Agency | 15 Eddy St., Gatineau QC K1A 0N9
Gouvernement du Canada | Government of Canada

RE: CTA File No. 08-50589

I need all the help I can get.

Tags: Air Travel | Bikes | Biking

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