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A consumer advocate says Halifax passengers should expect to pay more for flights down south after Air Canada takes over Air Transat routes.
Gabor Lukacs, founder and director of Air Passenger Rights, obtained a page from a consultant’s report that predicts “some price increases” as a result of the merger.
The page lists 20 routes, including Halifax flights to Cancun, CayoCoco, Fort Lauderdale, Orlando and Punta Cana.
Information on exactly how much flight costs are expected to rise are redacted and the report itself is being kept under wraps by Transport Canada, which commissioned it from Oxera, an economic consulting group based in Europe.
“The fact that the government is hiding this Oxera report is profoundly troubling because if the public is about to pay more as the result of the (takeover), people should be understanding why,” Lukacs said in an interview Monday.
He noted an analysis by the Competition Bureau of Canada, which was released publicly, also concluded flight prices would rise as a result of the merger.
The Competition Bureau’s report said the roughly $190-million deal would likely result in “substantial anti-competitive effects through the elimination of rivalry between Air Canada and Transat” and a reduction in the number of available flights in some regions.
A Transport Canada spokesman said in an email Monday that “unfortunately, the document contains third-party information and is protected under the Privacy Act. Therefore, Transport Canada is not in a position to share the Oxera report.”
In an email Monday evening, Air Canada spokeswoman Pascale Dery said the airline "has made all the necessary representations before the appropriate regulatory bodies and is confident that this transaction will benefit consumers, as well as employees and stakeholders of both companies."
Lukacs said the government appears to be going out of its way to protect Air Canada’s business interests over the rights of consumers. The merger will leave only two major players, Air Canada and Westjet, in the airline industry.
“I don’t think there should be market concentration because it harms everybody, it’s not healthy for the economy,” he said. “I feel there’s a lack of transparency around how this is being dealt with.”
WestJet wants ‘remedies’
In an email Monday, a WestJet spokesman said the merger shouldn’t go through “unless the government imposes critical mitigation measures. An approval without significant remedies would provide Air Canada with an unprecedented government-sanctioned monopoly to the unavoidable detriment of the travelling public through higher air fares and lower service.”
Lukacs said the merger is particularly irking because Air Canada’s last quarterly report indicates it’s holding onto $2.3 billion in revenues from advanced ticket sales. He said much of this money represents refunds that should have gone to passengers whose prepaid flights were affected by the pandemic.
Air Canada has said it’s provided about $1.2 billion in refunds since last spring.