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“I think it’s wrong that only one company makes the game Monopoly” Steven Wright, comedian

Seriously, that is a funny line. Mostly because it’s true.

I am really frustrated today by the stranglehold that the airlines in Canada have over those of us trying to bring our loved ones together. Today, my daughter and I have been trying to book her flights home over the Christmas holidays. My daughter, after seeing how the costs were significantly higher on EXACTLY the day that her exam period ends, observed that it was like the airlines knew that students at her university would be trying to fly home.

Well, yes. They definitely seem to know that. Flights that are one, two or three days ahead of the end of the exam period are significantly lower. Hmmm…

Flights from one side of the United States to the other side, on the other hand, are half the price, at the same time of year. I believe that is what happens when there is more than two companies vying for the travelling public’s money.

In a 2010 report called Canada’s Not So Friendly Skies, the Frontier Centre for Public Policy (executive summary here) explained that In-Country flights in Canada cost 45 cents per miles, in the United States it is 28 cents per mile and in Europe, it is only 16 cents per mile. If you remove the cost of taxes on flights, the disparity is even larger with Canadian flights coming in at 31 cents, 24 cents in the U.S. and only 8 cents per mile in Europe. The fact that anti-competition regulations disallow foreign carriers to fly between cities in North American countries is a factor that keep our prices higher.

A year ago, the Globe and Mail ran an article stating that the Canadian airline industry would “eke out” $231-million in profits in 2013. I do not understand economics but I do understand that $231 million sounds like a lot of profits. Enough that filling up planes at Christmas should not be a licence for a money grab.

I feel very fortunate that we can afford to fly my daughter home. But what of those students and their families who cannot? Student debt in Canada is on the rise and in 2010, it reached $15 billion. An article by the B.C. arm of the Canadian Federation of Students points out that debt has been a barrier for people entering post secondary education. It also creates a situation where students are unable to complete their studies because they are so burdened by the debt that it affects their mental and physical health. Additionally students are taking on one or more job to help fund their education. Connecting with family and getting some downtime away from school is vital to staying mentally and physically prepared to meet the challenges of school. And yet, the price of travelling home makes it a luxury that some simply cannot afford. With tuition prices that are four times higher than in 1990, it is a wonder that anyone leaves home to go to university at all.

student_debt_cartoon

Student debt is not funny. It is a terrible burden and a terrible way to finish school and begin the next chapter.

The actual exam schedule at my daughter’s university comes out in a month. There is a possibility that her exams and job responsibilities will free her prior to the last day of the exam period so we could wait until the schedule is posted to book her flights. Yet, there is a very real possibility that the inflated prices we paid today would seem paltry compared to what they offer in a month. It really is a catch-22.

My husband and I have started driving into the States to fly within North America, as much as possible. When the two of us can fly for the same price as one of us can fly within Canada, it seems to be a simple decision. It isn’t really – we are both keenly interested in keeping the Canadian economy healthy, but our bottom line has to come first, as it does for most people we know.

As I said, I don’t know much about economics, but I know that I’m frustrated about both the high cost of travel and education. Yet, I’m not seeing a future where I don’t participate in some form in both.

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