Air Canada’s Vomit-Stained Seat Incident Triggers National Outrage and Investigation

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A recent incident that saw passengers travelling in a vomit-stained seat on an Air Canada flight has sparked national outrage and led to wider discussions about the current state of airline operations in the country. The Canadian Public Health Agency (PHA) has launched an investigation into the matter.

The controversy resulted from an incident on August 26 when Air Canada passengers were escorted off a flight originating in Las Vegas en route to Montreal. They were protesting the appalling condition of their soiled and still damp seats, which the airline later acknowledged did not meet their usual standard of care. According to Air Canada, their established procedures were not correctly followed during this particular episode.

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The role of the PHA in this incident revolves around its obligation to prevent the potential transmission of diseases via body fluids transported into the country. Body fluids such as blood, vomit, and diarrhoea may contain microorganisms capable of spreading diseases and should be considered as potentially contaminating any surface they come into contact with, the agency stipulated in a public statement.

The incident came to light through a Facebook post by Susan Benson, a passenger seated behind the affected travellers. She wrote about the vile odour that persisted despite the crew’s efforts to mask it with coffee grinds and perfume, recounting the visibly distressed passengers’ unsuccessful attempts to get cabin crew to address the situation. Eventually, they were threatened with security escort and a place on the no-fly list for their persisting complaints.

John Gradek, an aviation management lecturer at McGill University, criticised the decision to dispatch the aircraft, despite the evident ‘biological hazard.’ Meanwhile, Duncan Dee, a former Air Canada chief operating officer, suggested that the resulting social media uproar reflects a generally felt decline in service quality after a year characterised by frequent flight delays and lost baggage.

The airlines’ operational challenges notwithstanding, passengers’ travel experiences have been adversely affected by disruptions beyond their control. While overcrowded terminals and luggage glut weren’t as severe in 2022 as predicted, frustration levels are undoubtedly rising. This is exacerbated by Air Canada earning the unenviable distinction of ranking last in punctuality among North America’s ten biggest airlines as of July this year.

Commenting on the vomit incident, Dee noted that seat cushions are actually removable and most airlines employ contracted cleanup crews who can replace soiled seats quickly. However, the tighter schedules currently experienced by airlines can limit the time available for comprehensive cleaning and maintenance, increasing pressure on flight crews to limit their ground time.

The PHA has disclosed that if they find the operator has contravened the Quarantine Act relating to communicable diseases, it has the power to issue a fine after an official inspection. The ongoing vomit incident isn’t the initial event of this nature to occur over the summer, with another case involving Air France under scrutiny for a passenger having to sit in the uncleaned remnants of a previous passenger’s hemorrhage.