Air Canada's Support of Bilingualism Shows Positive Results - Commissioner of Official Languages Report Tells Only Part of the Story

MONTREAL, June 7, 2016 /CNW Telbec/ - The Office of the Commissioner of Official Languages today issued a report which fails to recognize Air Canada's accomplishments relating to the bilingual services it provides its almost 42 million customers annually. We at Air Canada take great pride in our achievements that demonstrate our significant and sustained commitment to serve customers in the official language of their choice and in our role promoting bilingualism in Canada, a pillar of our Canadian heritage. While we continue to review the Report, we take strong exception to the Commissioner's mischaracterization of our performance on official languages which ignores our training and hiring accomplishments as well as the objectively measurable improved results in customer satisfaction.

As Canada's largest private sector bilingual employer and provider of bilingual services across the country and globally, Air Canada is proud of its dedicated and hardworking workforce and is fully supportive of the objectives of official bilingualism in Canada. Air Canada is equally proud to have served Canadians and visitors to Canada for well over a quarter century since privatization. Air Canada is a much stronger airline than it was when it was privatized, and continues to grow, including the number of cities served – 206 destinations today vs. 62 in 1989 – as well as in our capacity to serve our customers in both official languages employing tens of thousands of bilingual employees. The very high level of bilingualism of our services, which according to a recent Ipsos Reid poll 94 per cent of our customers rate as satisfactory or highly satisfactory, is testament to our strong commitment and the success of the significant efforts we make as the airline that is a proud standard-bearer of our common heritage.

The Report's reference to a "high number of complaints" is an inaccurate characterization; in 2015, for example, there were a total of 52 complaints – approximately the same number of complaints per year since 2009 when Air Canada served 10 million fewer customers – and represents a miniscule proportion of the almost 42 million customers served in 2015.  Despite the significant increase in customers served each year, the absolute number of complaints has not increased at all, in effect resulting in a substantial decrease in their proportion. With every customer having about six interactions with Air Canada employees, this translates to 52 complaints for over 246 million customer-employee exchanges (less than three millionths of one per cent).

This improvement, during a period of growth and the associated complexity of operations, is clear evidence that refutes allegations of inadequate responsiveness. Air Canada's effective decrease in complaints over this period is in contrast to an overall increase in complaints received by the Commissioner over the same period related to government and other federally regulated agencies, calling into question the basis for focus on Air Canada.

In fact, the Commissioner's contention that there is an exceptional, systemic problem ‎of non-compliance by Air Canada of its official languages obligations has been rejected by both the Federal Court of Appeal and the Supreme Court of Canada.

Punitive measures aimed at Air Canada as suggested by this Report are without credible justification, misdirected and would not contribute to promoting bilingualism in Canada or improving the level of services in both official languages available to Canadian travellers. We believe that the real opportunity for improving bilingualism in the airline sector in Canada lies in expanding the use of both official languages to all airlines and airport services across the country consistent with the spirit and heritage of bilingualism as a cherished value in Canada. This is as much an issue of choice for passengers, as a matter of principle and fairness for carriers. 


Air Canada is the only airline, and the only private sector company, subject to the federal Official Languages Act.  Air Canada has been fully privatized since 1989.

Whereas passenger numbers continue to rise, complaint numbers are falling despite the complexity of operations and scale associated with serving an additional 10 million customers over the past five years:

  • 2001 saw 143 complaints for about 22 million passengers served;
  • 2009 saw 51 complaints for 31 million passengers; 
  • 2013 saw 51 complaints for 35 million passengers;
  • 2014 saw 49 complaints for over 38 million passengers;
  • 2015 saw 52 complaints for over 41 million passengers;

According to a survey of more than 5,300 of Air Canada's customers conducted earlier this year by Ipsos Reid, the airline's customers stated that they are highly satisfied with Air Canada's ability to deliver service in their choice of English or French overall. Ninety-four per cent (94%) of Air Canada customers said they were satisfied or extremely satisfied overall with Air Canada's ability to deliver service in their official language of choice, an improvement of three percentage points from the previous year.  In addition, the majority of both francophones and anglophones said they believed Air Canada has improved its bilingual service delivery in the past year, with close to a quarter of them recognizing that bilingual service had improved significantly. 

Bilingualism Initiatives and Accomplishments:

When recruiting new employees who will interact with the public, Air Canada focuses on hiring bilingual candidates. Through considerable efforts in this regard, we have succeeded in recruiting more than 9,500 flight attendants and airport agents over the past 15 years, close to 60 per cent of whom are bilingual.  Our regional airline partners have also prioritized the recruitment of bilingual candidates and since 2000 Jazz Aviation has tripled its proportion of bilingual flight attendants to approximately 76 per cent.  This is despite the challenge of hiring qualified personnel outside of Quebec, the National Capital Region and Moncton. Outside of these three regions, the challenge is the lack of bilingual candidates to fill vacated positions – despite the fact that we contact Francophone organizations and advertise jobs in newspapers with a Francophone minority readership.

The last government census in fact reported the declining rate of bilingual people outside of Quebec which poses a challenge, not only for Air Canada, but for all organizations, including the federal government, seeking to employ bilingual personnel one for which we, a private sector airline, have very limited ability to address. Yet through diligent efforts working with the French speaking community outside Quebec our overall bilingual representation at the nine largest Canadian airports staffed by Air Canada employees increased from 27 per cent in 2010 to 36 per cent in 2015.

Key to these successes are numerous initiatives that Air Canada has undertaken to ensure employees are fully aware of and dedicated to delivering on Air Canada's official languages and customer service objectives.  Highlights of these initiatives include:

  • We invest millions of dollars every year in training, offering new employees awareness sessions and promoting our language training programs in order to raise employees' awareness of our bilingual service and active offer.
  • In an effort to standardize its bilingual service in Canada and in some foreign cities, Air Canada implements numerous automated systems that offer the same standard of quality services in both official languages; for example, airport self-service kiosks, used by clients for numerous transactions, the mobile app and the website. We keep up with evolving technology to find new ways to improve the consistency of service delivery.
  • To increase our results in a very competitive market (particularly for bilingual candidates outside of Quebec), we have expanded our presence in Francophone communities across Canada by participating in career fairs organized by Francophone centres and in other events (e.g. the ACFA, Rendez-vous de la Francophonie, Gala de la Francophonie albertaine, and Festival d'été francophone de Vancouver). We have already been observing results, noting an improvement in some regions, such as Alberta, for example.
  • We have for many years had a language evaluation system to help monitor the language skills of new hires and employees based on established corporate standards.
  • Every two years, we re-evaluate employees to be sure that they are maintaining their language skills. Should employees cease to qualify, we offer them a training plan to help rebuild their language skills.
  • In addition to the vast range of courses we already offer (e.g., skills maintenance, beginners, announcements and individualized coaching), we have developed online training modules that are much more flexible for employees who work various shifts.
  • A French language support telephone line is available to all agents across the world.
  • Our Air Canada Express partners, like Jazz Aviation and Sky Regional, hire mainly bilingual employees and offer language training to employees who are not fully bilingual.
  • A new Official Languages Action Plan was published first quarter of 2016 and is available online at

Air Canada is Canada's largest domestic and international airline serving more than 200 airports on six continents.  Canada's flag carrier is among the 20 largest airlines in the world and in 2015 served more than 41 million customers.  Air Canada provides scheduled passenger service directly to 64 airports in Canada, 55 in the United States and 87 in Europe, the Middle East, Africa, Asia, Australia, the Caribbean, Mexico, Central America and South America. Air Canada is a founding member of Star Alliance, the world's most comprehensive air transportation network serving 1,330 airports in 192 countries.  Air Canada is the only international network carrier in North America to receive a Four-Star ranking according to independent U.K. research firm Skytrax.  For more information, please visit:, follow @AirCanada on Twitter and join Air Canada on Facebook.


SOURCE Air Canada

For further information: Contacts: Isabelle Arthur (Montréal),, 514 422-5788; Peter Fitzpatrick (Toronto),, 416 263-5576; Angela Mah (Vancouver),, 604 270-5741; Internet: