British Columbia·Go Public

Air Canada carry-on squeeze blamed for delays, lost valuables

Air Canada is under fire for creating chaos as a result of too many passenger carry-on bags and not enough room to store them, resulting in delayed flights, harried staff and lost valuables.

Groom's $2,000 in goods vanishes, after lack of space forces him to check carry-on luggage

Baggage woes

7 years ago
Duration 2:38
Airline customers try to avoid fees by increasing the size of their carry-on luggage

Air Canada is under fire for creating chaos as a result of too many passenger carry-on bags and not enough room to store them, resulting in delayed flights, harried staff and lost valuables.

"Right now the [checked baggage] charges are high from the airline, so passengers are carrying more baggage with them to save the money," said Air Canada customer Vishal Shah, who said his carry-on bag was lost by the airline last month.

"There is not enough space for all the passengers to put the luggage. And furthermore, so many people, they are carrying more than one luggage every time."

Shah says that by the time he boarded his flight, all the overhead compartments were full. (CBC)

The Edmonton man said he lost $2,000 worth of valuables he was taking to India for his wedding, after Air Canada required him to check his carry-on bag, then lost track of it.

"Everybody is carrying more valuable stuff in their handbags. Laptop, iPad or whatever," he said.

Several passengers affected

Shah said he was among a dozen passengers on a delayed, overbooked flight from Vancouver who had to check their carry-on bags at the last minute, because there was no room left in the overhead compartments. 

"This is not only me. There are lots of people that are suffering because of this issue," said Shah.

Unions representing Air Canada staff told Go Public that excess carry-on baggage is a growing problem since the airline started charging new fees for checked bags, particularly on domestic flights.

"It’s something that we see more and more," said Michel Cournoyer, president of the union representing Air Canada flight attendants.

The head of Air Canada's flight attendants union, Michel Cournoyer, says planes are carrying more passengers who are now bringing more bags on flights. With fewer staff checking items at the gates, it creates the recipe for chaos. (CBC)

"There are lots of delays that are caused by the excessive [carry-on] baggage. Sometimes there are 10 or 15 bags left on the bridge and only two guys — ramp guys — to come and pick up that baggage."

Cournoyer said it’s not surprising if bags aren’t tagged properly, as staff scramble to get them checked.

"When everybody is under stress and everybody wants to push back on time and people don’t want to be reported [for causing delays] it creates the perfect storm," he said.

More bags, less room

Cournoyer pointed out that Air Canada’s newer planes have more seats but no more overhead compartment room. He also stressed there is not enough staff to monitor all the passengers’ carry-on items.

"It’s pretty bad. Especially on big routes, like New York for example, when people are all carrying on luggage," he said. "By the time you realize you have too many bags — everybody’s on board."

The union representing Air Canada’s customer service agents also told Go Public the problem is getting worse.

A representative who declined to be named said, "Managers at the gate are constantly putting pressure on agents up and down the bridge — to get going, get going."

Shah said he lost $2,000 worth of valuables, including an iPad and this Nikon camera, when his checked carry-on bag went missing. (CBC)

The union rep said that when there are too many bags on board, flight attendants put them out on the jet bridge. Customer service agents — sometimes just one agent per flight — are supposed to tag and check them before they are taken to the cargo hold by ground staff.

Mistakes are made, the union rep said, particularly when managers step in. 

"All kinds of things are done, in the rush to get flights out on time," the union rep said. "There’s no end of managers sticking their noses in … they don’t know what has to be done or how to do it properly,"

Valuables gone

Shah said that when Air Canada staff took his bag, they noted his name and seat number, but he said he wasn’t given a baggage tag.

When he arrived in India, his bag was nowhere to be found, he said, and there was no trace of it in Air Canada’s system.

"I had to buy everything brand new from India," he said. "I had to buy a camera because I am going for my honeymoon after my marriage."

Shah flew to India in January to celebrate his wedding with family. (Vishal Shah)

He emailed the airline immediately, but got no response. A few days later, he called. Air Canada later refused to compensate him, because his phone call — eight days after the flight — came too late.

"Unfortunately, we are unable to provide any compensation as the incident was not immediately reported to Air Canada," said a recent email from the airline.

"Actually, I emailed them on the same day when I reached India," said Shah.

"They are just taking the money from the people. If they charge fees and these things happen and they are still not compensating them … that’s not good practice."

Industry standard, says airline

In a statement, Air Canada insisted that the checking of carry-on bags at the gate is not happening on the majority of its flights, just the busiest ones. It also pointed out that its new fees for the first checked bag apply to domestic flights, not international.

Air Canada says tags are supposed to be issued for all excess carry-on luggage checked at the gate. As a result of Go Public's inquiries, it says it will follow up with staff, reminding them of the importance of this standard procedure. (CBC)

It said that it meets industry standards on its baggage procedures and fees.

"Air Canada adds additional ground staff during peak travel periods including during Christmas and summer to monitor bags prior to customers going through security in an effort to minimize excess baggage situations at the gate. We also staff to ensure bags are proactively handled at the gate prior to boarding."

As a result of our inquiries, though, the airline said it will compensate Shah for his lost valuables after all. 

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Kathy Tomlinson worked as an investigative reporter at CBC for more than a decade.


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