Belfast Telegraph

Just Julian

What goes up must come down

By Julian Simmons

IN the midst of this week, I heard the shocking news that Air Canada is reported to be in serious financial trouble, or to put it in a nutshell, the airline has filed for bankruptcy.

IN the midst of this week, I heard the shocking news that Air Canada is reported to be in serious financial trouble, or to put it in a nutshell, the airline has filed for bankruptcy.

As regular readers of my column will know, up until six years ago, as well as doing my job for UTV, I was also an employee of Air Canada.

At the time of writing, and after speaking to some of my former colleagues, who still work for the airline, my understanding of the situation is that Air Canada has asked to be protected by a North American regulation, which will give the company time to restructure, pare down it's services, and, at the same time, keep flying.

Knowing the vastness of Canada, most people will understand the vital importance of Air Canada, in the country's transportation infrastructure.

The airline now has a fleet of 224 jets, serving 150 destinations, both worldwide, and within North America, and is currently the third of that continent's 'big 10' airlines, to file for bankruptcy.

The company was flying high, when in 1978, I joined the company in the airline's Belfast office, located on the first floor of Canada House, at 22 North Street, which also housed the Canadian Consulate, and Immigration offices.

You will not need me to tell you of the tremendous link that Ireland had, and indeed still has, with Canada. For thousands and thousands have left our shores to begin new lives, in what was once perceived to be the land of milk and honey.

So Canada House was always bustling with activity. Young people would emigrate, and, in no time at all, parents and grandparents, would be flying out for a visit.

And, thanks, to the customer service skills of staff, the Northern Ireland public began to realise that transatlantic air travel to Canada was fast, comfortable, and above all, safe.

There was a wealth of repeat business, year, after year.

After I joined, the girls both kept me right, and I soon became well used to the alternate names that our passengers would have for the great Canadian cities of Vancouver, Winnipeg, and Calgary.

"Would you have two tickets, to Vin-coo-ver, for the twelfth fortnight son?"

"How much is your flights to Whinney-pagg?"

"My daughter says, youse go direct, til Kelg-erry!"

I also came to realise, the airline was known locally, here in Northern Ireland, as "the Aur Kennedy"!

Obviously, oblivious to both the three foot high, lettering on the wall behind our desks, and the huge red maple leaf beside it, prospective passengers would, on coming through the office door, inevitably ask "Excuse me! But is this the Aur Kennedy?"

On our assurances that, indeed, it certainly WAS, they would then proceed to ask "Do youse, like, GO, to Kennedy?"

"What part of Canada do you wish to travel to madam?"

"My daughter's!"

I have fond memories of an elderly couple, who were, seemingly, under the impression that we were running a Hindenburg-like, airship service, because they were anxious to establish if: "The Aur Kennedy would be going out, at the start of July, and, indeed, would it be coming BACK again, at the end of August, or the beginning of September?"

You could just imagine us all standing in North Street, waving our hankies up at the huge airborne leviathan, as it headed off into the west.

"There goes the Aur Kennedy, and it won't be back again, until the beginning of September!"

Air Canada, has always been renowned for high standards of comfort, and customer service. However, in the early eighties, a slow down in the numbers emigrating to Canada from Northern Ireland, the later cessation of the service from Shannon to Montreal and Toronto, and the increased frequency of charter flights direct from Belfast, caused both the Canadian consulate, and, a little later, Air Canada, to close their Belfast offices.

From then on, I commuted to Heathrow to work in passenger service in terminal three, and, during a short period of time, Air Canada began to expand globally, with services to Bombay, Singapore, and later, to Tokyo, and Australia.

We then had September 11th 2001, and there is now war in Iraq!

In the wake of the turndown in economic fortunes, it is anticipated that the Canadian Government will step in, to save the country's national airline from going right under, and at the moment Air Canada is expected to keep flying, while the serious financial problems are resolved.

But, who would have ever thought it?

What a mad, mad world, we live in!

Belfast Telegraph

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