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A proposed class action lawsuit alleges that Air Canada and WestJet “colluded to fix the price” and introduce a charge for a first checked bag fee within days of each other.
The suit also plans to claim that the added charge has “unjustly enriched” the two airlines, because it comes with no extra service.
“It doesn’t seem fair and it doesn’t seem right,” says Lorne Hoedel, a Regina resident and the lead plaintiff in the proposed lawsuit.
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In 2014, both Air Canada and WestJet introduced a $25 charge for the first piece of checked luggage for economy passengers on domestic and other flights within North America.
The suit was filed this month at the Court of Queen’s Bench for Saskatchewan. The proposed class action will include all Canadian passengers who paid either airline the fee while taking domestic or U.S. flights after October 29, 2014.
The case will only proceed if it is certified by the Saskatchewan court.
Checked bag ‘collusion’?
A lawyer for the plaintiff alleges the country’s two largest airlines “colluded,” claiming WestJet publicly announced its checked bag fee plans as a way to invite Air Canada to follow along, which it did.
“It’s a wink, wink, we’ll get together and do the same thing,” says lawyer Tony Merchant with Merchant Law in Regina, which filed the suit.
On Sept. 15, 2014, WestJet announced its new $25 checked bag charge. Air Canada made its announcement just three days later, on Sept. 18. WestJet starting charging the fee the following month, days before Air Canada did.
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“As soon as they had the announcement from WestJet, then they acted,” says Merchant of Air Canada’s moves. “We think we can establish they were acting in concert.”
The suit also claims that, because the two airlines dominate the market, they can impose the luggage charge “without any worthy competition to keep them in check.”
Both Air Canada and WestJet declined to comment on the suit to CBC News.
The collusion argument doesn’t fly with Calgary aviation analyst Rick Erickson. He believes Air Canada simply reacted quickly to WestJet’s news and says that’s the way many industries operate.
“You watch what your competitors are doing and, by and large, you emulate it,” says Erickson. “[Even] if it’s not a great thing for the customer, sometimes these decisions still get made.”
‘It kind of rips me off and that’s why I decided to pursue this’- Lorne Hoedel, plaintiff
He also notes that many American airlines introduced the first checked bag fee long before Air Canada and WestJet adopted it.
A class action lawsuit has also been launched in the U.S., targeting the fee in that country.
It alleges that American carriers Delta and AirTran Airways colluded to impose a $15 first checked bag charge which was announced by the two airlines within days of each other in 2008.
The suit was certified in court last year.
Checked bag profits
The proposed Canadian class action also alleges that Air Canada and WestJet have profited from the baggage charge, while providing nothing more for customers.
“It kind of rips me off and that’s why I decided to pursue this,” says plaintiff Hoedel. He first had to pay the $25 fee twice in July 2015 when he flew a round trip on WestJet from Regina to Toronto to attend a wedding.
Since then, Hoedel recalls he’s had to pay the charge a couple more times with Air Canada, totaling $100 in all.
He wants his money back. The lawsuit seeks to get back “every nickel” the two airlines got for this charge, says Merchant.
Erickson admits he’s no fan of the fee. But he says charging for something that was once included in the airfare is simply standard airline industry practice these days.
“They used to offer free meals and now they charge. Now all the good seats have prices on them,” says Erickson.
“The airlines have very carefully sliced and diced all of their product offerings. That’s how business gets done these days, like it or not.”