Air Canada Loves Dogs… Or Does It?

PetGuide
PetGuide logo

Am I the only one who’s scratching her head over the news about a French Bulldog named Simba and Air Canada’s response to the situation – not for the airline’s actions taken to preserve a dog’s life, but for Air Canada’s change in attitude over media reaction to the event?

Let me explain.

In the past few days, this story has gone viral – Simba was “saved” by an Air Canada pilot who diverted an international flight (Tel Aviv to Toronto) when one of the cargo hold heaters malfunctioned (Simba was travelling in the cargo hold, not the cabin). The airline has rules in place for canine travelers in cargo – minimum ambient temperatures need to be at a minimum of 10 degrees. If the plane flew over the Atlantic, the cargo hold would dip down to temps far colder than that. The plane had not yet reached the ocean when the heater went caput, so the pilot was able to land and transfer Simba to another flight. So, if rules are put in place, then the pilot was technically following proper procedure, not taking heroic and extraordinary measures. However, you can’t ignore that this makes for a hell of a feel-good story and priceless positive PR for Air Canada that money can’t buy. Well, maybe a little money. There were costs involved – the diversion cost $10,000 in extra fuel.

While we are glad that this story has a happy ending, let’s not forget that Air Canada has a disastrous past with insensitive statements regarding a particular dog’s death. In 2013, the airline made news when a rescue greyhound escaped after handlers at San Francisco International Airport disregarded instructions and let him out of his crate. Larry was later confirmed dead after being hit by a car. This extremely devastating loss was further compounded with salt rubbed in the wound, in the form of a flippant comments by an Air Canada spokesman. After a local CBS TV station reached out to Air Canada for a quote, spokesman Peter Fitzpatrick mistakenly sent them an email that was intended for internal staff: “I think I would just ignore, it is local news doing a story on a lost dog. Their entire government is shut down and about to default and this is how the U.S. media spends its time.” Ouch. To the airline’s dismay, this email hit international headlines, and was quickly followed by another Air Canada statement saying the previous email was inappropriate.

After a PR snafu like that, you’d think the no-brainer course of action would be to fire the spokesman to save face.

Wait a second… Peter Fitzpatrick… that name sounds familiar. That’s right – it looks like he’s still employed by Air Canada, and is the SAME spokesman who issued this email response a few days ago to the CBC:  “The captain grew rightfully concerned for the dog’s comfort and wellbeing. With the altitude it can become very uncomfortable, and possibly the situation could have been life threatening if the flight had continued.” He went on to say this regarding the 232 passengers on board the flight: “The overall reaction was positive, particularly once people understood the dog was in potential danger but safe as a result of the diversion.” Okay… I guess someone finished their double-major Grief/Sensitivity Training and Proper Email Protocol degree from Devry University. It took two years, but hey… progress, right?

Again, I am thrilled that the Air Canada pilot made the right decision to divert the Tel Aviv-to-Toronto flight, effectively saving Simba from freezing to death. And I hope this event signifies a new pet-friendly PR policy within the airlines. Let’s just be glad that this time around, Air Canada didn’t inadvertently send out NSFW *cough* “wiener dog” pictures to the press – way to learn from your mistakes, guys.