Air Canada told to improve bilingual service

Canada's official languages watchdog says Air Canada needs to do more to ensure that services are actively provided in English and French where required.

Canada's official languages watchdog says Air Canada needs to do more to ensure that services are actively provided in English and French where required.

In an audit report released Monday,  Official Languages Commissioner Graham Fraser said "change is required in Air Canada’s organizational culture and leadership, and that it must begin at the top level and filter down through all levels, leading to concrete improvements for the travelling public."

The 10-month audit found that an "active offer" of bilingual services is nonexistent in the vast majority of airports — the exception being at  Montréal’s Pierre Elliott Trudeau International Airport, where an active offer was made less than half of the time.

The audit also found that an active offer of bilingual services on board aircraft is not always provided. Flight attendants indicated they usually wait to see what language the passengers uses first.

Under current rules, Air Canada services must be offered in both official languages on board flights where there is a significant demand, and on board all flights on routes that are designated bilingual. An Air Canada route is designated bilingual when:

  • It starts, has an intermediate stop or finishes at an airport in the National Capital Region, the Montreal area or Moncton.
  • It starts and finishes in a province where the official language minority community represents at least five per cent of the population (Ontario, Quebec and New Brunswick are, therefore, designated bilingual).
  • It connects two bilingual regions.

Air Canada services on the ground must also be offered in both official languages in airports that receive at least 1 million passengers annually or if the demand for services from an official language minority community is at least five per cent. The airports with more than one million passengers per year are St. John’s, Halifax, Québec City, Montréal, Ottawa, Toronto, Winnipeg, Saskatoon, Edmonton, Calgary, Kelowna, Vancouver and Victoria.

Some Air Canada agents were not aware of the company's legal responsibilities when it came to delivering services in both official languages.

"Some agents told us that they did not have to make an active offer because they were Anglophone. Other agents said they felt uncomfortable making an active offer because they did not want to start a conversation in French, particularly on shifts where there were no bilingual agents working," the audit reports stated.

The audit includes 12 recommendations to help Air Canada improve its service delivery to passengers in both official languages.

 "The corrective measures we propose can be applied fairly easily — in fact, Air Canada has integrated most of them into its new action plan and is committed to implementing them," Fraser said in a statement.