BUSINESS

Air Canada CEO Calin Rovinescu Refuses To Talk About Passenger Bumping

"That's not what I expected this interview to be about."

08/23/2017 15:16 EDT | Updated 08/24/2017 10:26 EDT
Bloomberg via Getty Images
Air Canada CEO Calin Rovinescu speaks during a luncheon meeting of the Canadian Club of Toronto on Nov. 12, 2010.

Air Canada CEO Calin Rovinescu clearly wants to change the channel on all the negative publicity airlines have been receiving lately.

So much so that Rovinescu threatened to walk out of an interview with journalist and author Trevor Cole if he was asked more questions about the controversial practice of passenger bumping.

Asked about a notorious incident this past summer in which a 10-year-old boy was bumped off a flight out of Prince Edward Island, Rovinescu gave a combative response.

"I'm not getting into specific customer dynamics with you, Trevor," he said, as quoted in an interview published by the Globe and Mail on Tuesday.

"And that's not what I expected this interview to be about, and I'm happy to end it here if that's — I'm not getting into discussions with respect to specific customer experiences."

LightRocket via Getty Images
An Air Canada plane at Toronto's Pearson International Airport. Air Canada took a hit to its image this summer when it bumped a 10-year-old off a flight out of P.E.I.

Air Canada took a hit to its image this summer when a 10-year-old boy travelling with his family was bumped off a flight from P.E.I. to Montreal. The family had been headed to Costa Rica on vacation, and had to shell out an additional $700 to $1,000 of their own money to get to Montreal for the connecting flight.

"Tell me what other business could get away with this service, and how they can sell me a ticket and not reserve the seat that I paid for," said Brett Doyle, the boy's father, at the time.

Air Canada contacted the family and offered them compensation and an apology, though apparently not until after the situation attracted media attention.

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The incident took place days after a bumped passenger was violently dragged off a United Airlines flight at Chicago's O'Hare Airport, after refusing to leave the plane.

Video of the incident went viral and prompted policy changes at various U.S. airlines.

Rovinescu also refused to talk about that United Airlines incident, saying he wasn't "going to start debating other carriers."

More about airline overbooking:

Transport Canada doesn't publish data on the number of bumped passengers in the country, and Rovinescu would not offer data about bumping at Air Canada.

But the U.S. Department of Transportation does track passenger bumping, and found a major decline in the practice since the United incident. The rate of passenger bumping fell to the lowest level on record, the department said.

Transport Minister Marc Garneau introduced a new passengers' bill of rights this spring, which will ban airlines from removing overbooked passengers against their will. Critics say the bill is toothless because it fails to spell out punishments airlines are to face when breaking the rules, among other things.

Rovinescu also refused to take any questions on the incident at San Francisco International Airport last month, when an Air Canada jet apparently nearly landed on four jets sitting on a taxiway. The incident is the subject of an investigation.

Asked about pilot error, Rovinescu responded: "Trevor, I'm not sure I'm loving the direction of your interview here."

Vince Talotta via Getty Images
Air Canada CEO Calin Rovinescu stands next to a model of the Boeing 787 Dreamliner at the Air Canada offices in Toronto, October 17, 2013.

The Air Canada boss pointed to a Skytrax survey that named Air Canada the best airline in North America, though it ranked only 29th worldwide.

But not all surveys paint such a rosy picture of the airline.

An Angus Reid poll earlier this year found passengers gave United and Air Canada the lowest rankings among North American carriers.

Though he may not be known for his people skills, Rovinescu is credited with being a major force in turning around Air Canada, which struggled financially for many years.

Rovinescu was the airline's chief restructuring officer after it declared bankruptcy in 2003. He was appointed CEO in 2009, when airlines around the world were suffering due to the global financial crisis.

Since then, Rovinescu has presided over a remarkable turnaround which saw the airline post record earnings in the second quarter of 2016.

Shares in Air Canada hit a 10-year high last month, when the airline said it expected better earnings than what analysts had forecast.

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