Among the reasons I moved to California was my disdain and intolerance for the sorry state of commercial airline travel in North America. California may be going to hell in a handbasket, but the state’s undeniable natural beauty remains intact, and there’s so much to explore within an easy driving distance from my Los Angeles home. If I felt like it, I could get in my car and be in Big Sur within six hours – 6.5 hours if I took the scenic route.

San Francisco is less than a six-hour drive, although admittedly my once favorite American city has already gone to hell in a handbasket.

Accepting life on life’s terms has never been one of my strong suits, and when one boards a commercial airliner today and is flying coach, one must embrace being disrespected and abused, and imagining what sardines would experience if they were alive when sealed into a can. A day doesn’t go by when I don’t come across multiple stories about planes being diverted because some passenger wigged out and the flight attendant Gestapo deemed them a threat and called for an emergency landing. The once friendly skies of United are no longer welcoming if one so much as looks at a flight attendant the wrong way.

Many flight attendants have become intoxicated with power and seem to delight exercising it. One can’t really blame them – I regard being a flight attendant as miserable a job as working at GM’s Ohio electric battery plant, albeit not quite as dangerous.

Though I didn’t think it possible, North American commercial air travel late last month reached a new low, a benchmark not surprisingly set by Air Canada, long the national disgrace of my former home and native land. Despite legions of airline horror stories I’ve read over the years, nothing prepared me for the indignities suffered by two unidentified women who were a tad reluctant to sit in assigned seats reeking of puke.

The August 26th incident happened in Las Vegas aboard an Air Canada flight bound for Montreal. The women were on the first leg of a journey to Vienna.

According to media reports based on an account posted on social media, the two women balked at being seated in seats that were still moist with vomit, presumably from a passenger(s) on an earlier flight. Although attempts were made to cover the foul order with perfume and coffee grinds, the seats and seatbelts were still covered in vomit residue when the two women reached their assigned seats.

When the unidentified women protested, the flight’s pilot paid them a visit and gave them two options: Shut up and fly Air Canada’s vomit class or be escorted off the plane and be placed on the “no-fly list,” which was intended to prevent terrorists from boarding flights.

The women understandably opted for the escort off the plane option, although it’s not publicly known whether Air Canada made good on its “no-fly list” threat.

This horror story would never have gone public were it not for the conscience of a Canadian woman named Susan Benson, who witnessed what happened and was quite bothered by it.

Susan Benson/CTV News screenshot

“I cannot stop thinking about these two ladies,” Benson posted on her Facebook page three days after the vomit incident happened. “They did nothing wrong. They were flying to Vienna via Montreal. I am ashamed to be a Canadian and ashamed of Air Canada. I would like for as many people as possible to share this. I have already complained to Air Canada directly and placed it on other social media platforms. I hope they find a good lawyer and sue the pants off Air Canada. Shame on you Air Canada! shame on you! #aircanada.”

Here is Benson’s entire Facebook post recounting the vomit incident.

To my surprise, Air Canada didn’t pioneer vomit class. The honors go to Frontier Airlines, whose slogan is “Low Fares Done Right.”

Back in July 2019, a 53-year-old North Carolina woman named Rosetta Swinney was arrested after complaining about vomit that she and her teenage daughter found on their seats when they also boarded a flight in Las Vegas but bound for Raleigh-Durham International Airport. Swinney was arrested and spent 12 hours in the slammer.

“I felt humiliated,” Swinney told the ABC Durham affiliate. “I felt more bad that my child had to see me be handcuffed and taken away from her.” Swinney’s daughter was placed into protective custody during the ordeal.

According to the trade publication Simple Flying, Swinney sued Frontier and the dispute was settled for an undisclosed amount in 2022.

As best I can tell, vomit is considered a biohazard and requires specialized cleaning.

Delta seems to agree with the biohazard assessment. A Delta flight from Atlanta to Barcelona was recently forced to return to Atlanta two hours after taking off because of an “on board medical issue” involving a passenger with a severe case of diarrhea.

“This is a biohazard issue,” the pilot reportedly told air traffic control. “We’ve had a passenger who’s had diarrhea all the way through the airplane, so they want us to come back to Atlanta.”

Delta didn’t handle the issue by spraying gallons of Febreze throughout the aircraft. Instead, the plane underwent a five-hour cleanup that included tearing up and replacing the entire carpet.  

“Our teams worked as quickly and SAFELY (emphasis mine) as possible to thoroughly clean the airplane and get our customers to their final destination. We sincerely apologize to our customers for the delay and inconvenience,” Delta said in a statement.

(I once regarded Delta as the best, or perhaps more accurately as the least bad, of the major U.S. carriers, but the airline’s disgraceful handling of a lost dog diminished my respect for the company. Travel industry wags say Delta is an acronym for “Doesn’t Ever Leave the Airport” because of persistent cancellations and delays.)

Air Canada gave a statement saying it already has apologized to the affected puke passengers and claimed its “operating procedures weren’t correctly followed in this instance.”

“We are reviewing this serious matter internally and have followed up with the customers directly as our operating procedures were not followed correctly in this instance. This includes apologizing to these customers, as they clearly did not receive the standard of care to which they were entitled and addressing their concerns. We remain in contact with them about this matter.”

The apology is yet another example of how company managements are quick to throw their employees to the curb rather than assume responsibility for their own ineptitude and negligence. My guess is the Air Canada pilot and the flight attendant involved were following the airline’s operating instructions to a T, which likely calls for turning around aircraft ASAP, come hell or high water because the company doesn’t make money when its planes are resting idly on the ground.

A more honest and transparent Air Canada response would be, “Our managers responsible for training Air Canada flight crews have clearly been negligent ensuring that our customers are treated with respect and assured a clean aircraft that doesn’t expose them to health risks emanating from vomit or other biohazards.”

Michael Rousseau/Air Canada

Here’s a link profiling Air Canada’s senior management team. CEO Michael Rousseau in 2022 received $12.4 million in compensation – a 233% pay increase from the previous year.

It’s not only Air Canada flight crews badly in need of additional training. I’ve seen many videos of passengers losing it on flights where the flight attendants made matters worse with their immediate warnings of arrests or threatening to put those who dare to complain on “no-fly lists.” Addressing disputes at 35,000 ft. with a little kindness and understanding would go a long way and possibly avoid the frequent diversion of aircraft to remove passengers who often simply can’t cope with the indignities and unpleasantness of airline travel today.

Still, Air Canada has long been in a disgraceful league of its own. Canadians should be ashamed having their Maple Leaf prominently displayed on the tail of the company’s aircraft.

Candidly, whenever I see an Air Canada plane and reminded of the myriad horrific experiences I had flying that poor excuse for an airline, I, too, want to barf.

Reader comment on the Washington Post story about Air Canada’s vomit class.

I have flown many airlines around the world in the past four decades, including in developing countries in Asia and Africa, and in the cargo spaces of airplanes in and out of combat zones. The two round trips I flew on Air Canada were the worst of my life. It’s a complete trash airline and an embarrassment to the good people of Canada.

Subscribe to Blog via Email

Enter your email address to subscribe to this blog and receive notifications of new posts by email.