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Air Canada has ‘recurring official language problems,’ audit finds Add to ...

From not telling arriving travellers that they can be served in both official languages to failing to make boarding announcements in French, Air Canada has recurring inabilities to provide bilingual services because many of its managers and staff are unaware of the carrier’s legal obligation, says a new audit.

“The audit shows significant shortcomings in the knowledge managers and agents have of Air Canada’s obligations with respect to the active offer and delivery of bilingual services,” says the report, released Monday by the office of Official Languages Commissioner Graham Fraser.

The 10-month audit began in April of last year and found that in almost every case it was service in French that wasn’t properly provided.

Release of the audit report comes two months after Air Canada was ordered by the Federal Court to apologize and pay $12,000 to Michel and Lynda Thibodeau for failing to provide services in French during two trips the Ottawa couple took in 2009.

“Canadians expect Air Canada to consider our two official languages as a valued asset as well as a business opportunity and an obligation. The results of the audit reveal that a wind of change is required for this to happen,” the audit report says.

As a former Crown corporation, Air Canada retained its bilingual obligations when it was privatized in 1988. The carrier has to offer services in both French and English at major Canadian airports and on designated routes in Ontario, Quebec and New Brunswick.

The audit says however that “the active offer of bilingual services is non-existent in the vast majority of airports,” except at Montréal’s Pierre Elliott Trudeau International Airport.

Even at Trudeau airport, front-line employees made that offer to arriving travellers less than half of the time.

At check-in counters, some agents made no offer to find a French-speaking colleague, simply saying, “Sorry, I don’t speak French,” though there was a bilingual agent at another counter.

The problem stemmed from employees not being aware of the carrier’s legal obligations but also “negative attitude” by some agents, the auditors found.

They also reported that, at boarding and arrival gates, unscripted announcements were often not bilingual so that francophone passengers could miss their flights or miss out on an offer of compensation for an overbooked flight.

The company has “recurring official languages problems” because no one is held responsible for meeting official languages objectives, the audit says.

The vast majority of employees interviewed did not know that the carrier has a policy where they should tell customers to wait while they seek a bilingual co-worker, rather than push the customer to switch language.

Language training courses weren’t promoted and access to them hard and limited.

“From the outset, it was clear that there are problems with French-language services (outside of Quebec), both in the air and on the ground,” the audit says.

Air Canada has agreed with all but one of the 12 recommendations of the audit and will integrate them in its plans, the report says.

The carrier, however, disagreed with a recommendation that it regularly consult with francophone communities when making decisions affecting routes and services.

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