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Rough Week for Air Canada: Told to Improve French Services

Photo by Micheal Gil

By Carissa Bluestone

Though Air Canada averted a strike yesterday, coming to a last-minute agreement with the flight attendants union, the airline didn’t fare as well with Canada’s languages watchdog. It received a slap on the wrist this week from Official Languages Commissioner Graham Fraser concerning its treatment of French-speaking passengers.

An audit of the airline’s bilingual services conducted from April 2010 to January 2011 was less than impressive: In airports where bilingual services are required (any airport with more than 1 million passengers annually) only one in four Air Canada agents spoke French. Only half of the agents assigned to designated bilingual flights were indeed bilingual. Additionally, the airline topped the list of complaints received by the commissioner’s office between 2005 and 2009. Air Canada is the only carrier that operates under the Official Languages Act.

The audit also revealed systemic confusion: a lack of clear directives from management and uncertainty among agents about their legal obligations to French-speaking flyers. As a result, recommendations put forth by the commission include the implementation of accountability frameworks and multiyear action plans addressing everything from staffing to airport signage. For Francophone customers this should eventually translate into greater availability of bilingual agents at the gate and in the air.

For more on what constitutes a bilingual flight, read the story at www.cbc.ca

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