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David Sovka: Airlines are looking for your help (and lots of your money)

The combined effects of an ongoing pilot shortage and the pandemic have resulted in fewer flight choices, more cramped conditions on planes, and one of the biggest industry-wide fare hikes in history
An Air Canada plane sits on the tarmac at Pearson International Airport in Toronto in April 2021. During the pandemic, Air Canada lost $9 billion, so it should be no surprise that fares — particularly international ones — have risen sharply to refill their coffers, writes David Sovka. NATHAN DENETTE, CP

I believe it was Aristotle who said:

“Fly me to the moon

And let me play among the stars…

In other words, hold my hand

In other words, baby, kiss me.”

Maybe it was Socrates — I get the two mixed up — but either way, Greek philosophers got game, what with all the hand-holding and kissing on flights around ancient Peloponnese!

Have you seen how much it costs to fly to Athens today versus just a few months ago, when airlines were happy to see us all again?

More on that high cost in a minute. First, let’s acknowledge that air travel is still the quickest and most efficient way to get from A to B, unless the places are quite close together, say, from your kitchen to the laundry room.

Also, flying can be a lot of fun, especially if you’re travelling somewhere you’ve never been before, or if you wake up in the baggage hold with a terrible headache and somebody else’s shoes. Who knows what’s going to happen next? Fun!

For some, flying is an adventure in itself, an exciting chance to meet new people and communicable diseases. Flying is full of mystery, the main mystery being how a fully loaded Boeing 747-400 weighing 910,000 pounds flies at all.

But there are many other, smaller mysteries, such as whether or not your suitcase will arrive on time or ever, and exactly what the fervently praying guy in Seat 27B knows that you don’t know? Mysterious!

Flying can be a great opportunity to network with other professionals, because if there is one thing ­executives love, it is to fill hours of blessed respite from the office with talking about the office.

When you find yourself sitting next to someone who could be a Valuable Business Connection, make sure to let him know about the minutiae of your job, especially that one time Nancy from HR accidentally put a recipe upside down on the lunchroom refrigerator! Hahaha that was such a good story you should probably share it with the whole row.

Some people are afraid of flying, mainly people frightened of dying by crashing aerial fireball. This is silly because, statistically speaking, flying a plane is safer than driving a car, especially if a pilot is on board.

The International Air Transport Association recently released its 2022 Safety Report for global aviation, and the good news is the number of fatal accidents has declined over the past five years. The bad news is all those people with a better boarding zone number than you did not die, as you secretly hoped while waiting for them to board first and fill up the overhead bins with bags of duty-free perfume.

There were five fatal accidents among 32.2 million flights in 2022, which clearly shows that flying is among the safest activities in which a person can engage while travelling at 900 kilometres per hour, 10,000 metres above the surface of the Earth.

One of the hurdles of long-distance air travel is “jet lag.” This refers to a disruption to the natural sleep rhythms of the body, when your brain thinks it is, say, three in the afternoon, but your body feels like a stench-packing factory in eastern Saigon.

Fortunately, most airlines help distract you by screening big Hollywood blockbusters on tiny monitors that come with FREE fingerprints and microwaved lunch smears. If you’re lucky, they will hand out the world’s worst earphones, which unfortunately cause ear cancer. I’m kidding! They cause male pattern ­baldness.

It wasn’t so long ago that airlines were slashing prices and offering huge seat sales to lure customers back onto planes right after the pandemic, appealing to a new class of tourist: Risky But Cheap.

Those days are over, largely because of what ­economists call “too complicated to worry your pretty little head.” As my pretty little head understands it, global air traffic in 2023 is expected to surpass the record set in pre-pandemic 2019, when the airline industry had more employees.

Last year, only 238 people in Canada earned a ­commercial pilot’s licence, down 79 per cent from 2019. The main reasons prospective students gave for not pursuing pilot training are:

• Way too many buttons, switches and knobs on the dashboard.

• Bile odours, bile stains.

• The “Mile High Club” is now officially against airline regulations.

The result has been fewer flight choices, more cramped conditions on the planes that are available, and one of the biggest industry-wide fare hikes in ­history. Most domestic fares are up only ­modestly because nobody wants to fly to Winnipeg, but i­nternational fares have soared as much as 50 per cent from last year.

During the pandemic, Air Canada lost $9 billion. Hang on a sec, let me put that in all-caps and throw in an exclamation mark: $9 BILLION! If you do the math, it’s a lot of money. I guess we can’t be surprised they are gouging us now to make up for the loss.

Air Canada’s last quarterly report showed the ­airline’s revenue per available seat mile surged by 39 per cent over the same period a year earlier, but its costs per available seat mile increased by just 2.5 per cent.

So, yay Air Canada? Ever since Brian Mulroney’s Conservative government destroyed Canada’s national aviation industry in 1987 with the National ­Transportation Act, it’s been extra hard to cheer for a foreign-owned airline best known for mumbling bad French, and ranked dead last in on-time performance among the 10 largest airlines in North America.

Of course, one must be philosophical about all this. Air Canada’s expensive, poor performance has allowed a bunch of weirdly-branded discount airlines to crowd into the market, such as Swoop, Barf, Flair and Wahwahwah.

And so we return to our philosopher friends for a little help with being philosophical while we watch the price of flights to Athens go through the roof:

“To be is to do” — Socrates

“To do is to be” — Jean-Paul Sartre

“Do be do be do” — Frank Sinatra

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