What Happened To Canadian Airlines?

Did you know there was once an airline in Canada that was part of the OneWorld Alliance? In fact, the name of that airline was Canadian – and it was a founding member of the alliance. Yes, before WestJet was Air Canada’s major domestic rival there was Canadian Airlines. But what happened to them?

Canadian Airlines flew long-haul flights to Europe, Asia and more. Photo: Wikimedia Commons

Where it all began

According to Wikipedia, Canadian Airlines was formed on March 27th, 1987, after a series of acquisitions and mergers of the following airlines:

  • Pacific Western
  • Canadian Pacific (CP Air)
  • Eastern Provincial Airways
  • Nordair

Two years later, in 1989, it went on to acquire Wardair. This gave the airline access to new routes including to the UK and Europe. Its major hubs were the three largest Canadian cities:

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  • Toronto (YYZ)
  • Montreal (YUL)
  • Vancouver (YVR)

Canadian was also a founding member of the OneWorld airline alliance, along with airlines Qantas, American Airlines and British Airways.

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In the last few years of its service, Canadian Airlines expanded its international route network in Asia. The airline flew to destinations as far as:

  • China
  • Hong Kong
  • Japan
  • Malaysia
  • Philippines
  • Singapore
  • Taiwan
  • Thailand

At that time it gave Canadian Airlines the distinction of flying to more places in Asia, more often than any other Canadian carrier.

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Financial difficulties and acquisition

Unfortunately, Canadian Airlines was hit hard by a slump in the airline industry in 1991. In addition to debt restructuring, the airline was further aided by an injection of cash from the American Airlines Group. Seven years later the airline was also feeling the effects of an Asian economic downturn in 1998 and saw its air traffic decrease, unfortunately mainly in the transpacific where it was focusing much of its energy.

It would also be reasonable to assume that the start and growth of WestJet also took away market share from the airline. WestJet started up in 1994.

After continued poor performance, Canadian Airlines was acquired by Air Canada in 2000. There were other proposals for the airline’s survival but they were all rejected. This even included a competing bid led by American Airlines to purchase Canadian. American Airlines had already maxed out its government-imposed limit of foreign ownership set at the time as 25%. That limit has since been increased.

When the merger took place, Canadian Airlines had over 40% of the domestic passenger market in Canada. 

Canadian Airlines had a fleet of 14 DC-10-30 aircraft.

The Canadian airspace now

Air Canada 787
Air Canada recently acquired Air Transat. Photo: Air Canada

The Canadian airspace now consists of two major players: Air Canada and WestJet. These two airlines have their own low-cost subsidiaries: Air Canada Rouge and Swoop. Now acquired by Air Canada, Air Transat has some great routes but remains largely a charter and leisure airline.

Earlier this year WestJet was acquired by major private investment firm Onex for US$3.7 billion.

United's CEO will fly on the Boeing 737 Max
WestJet was recently acquired by private investment firm Onex. Photo: Acefitt via Wikimedia Commons

Conclusion

The Canadian air travel industry will continue to evolve but it looks like Air Canada will retain its top spot for a while. Hopefully, WestJet (and their new owners/investors) will keep the sector competitive.

Did you ever get the chance to fly with Canadian Airlines? How did the service and product compare to other airlines at the same time? Let us know by leaving a comment!

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Pete Scott

WestJet’s conceptual birth was in mid June 1994, (as the ABC Air Group), but the first flights were not until Feb 29 1996, ie, about 20 months later. Compare that to Canada Jetlines who conceptualized their idea in mid 2013, and after 72 months, were still waiting for something to… Read more »

James Gurney

Canadian Airlines was a horrible airline ! I recall a bunch of old airplanes, senior citizen flight attendants, and a hodge podge of service. Absolutely no consistency with their service. Air Canada had a very good mileage program. Canadian Airlines was the little airline that could NOT! No wonder it… Read more »

Chris Best

https://warfleetpress2.wordpress.com/2014/07/28/joss-a-honking-good-time/ A book has been written about Canadian Airlines and is still available. It also tells the story of how a group of employees tried to save the airline as well as the real reason for its demise which had a lot to do with government and insider cronyism. Check… Read more »

Eric V.

I never flew with them, but I remember as a young photographer taking a LOT of pictures of their planes, in particular one 747 that seemed to be parked at Toronto every time I visited. I miss them. I miss the DC-10. Always loved my tri-engines.

Silka Reinmann

They did not have the most modern aircraft . I recall being handed a DVD player when seated in business class, while other airlines had in seat video monitors. Their airplanes tended to be older . My company at the time used them for about a year – not impressed.… Read more »

Amir

Based out of Montreal, I flew Canadian Airlines very often for both domestic, trans-boarder and international segments. It was amazing experience till the time Air Canada took over and destroyed the wonderful Canadian Airlines. Yes there was an effort by Canadian Airlines FTE’s but the gov regulations took it down.… Read more »

Tim

Air Canada is terrible, We booked a flight Victoria to Calgary and my wife was in a wheelchair, It turned out to be a Dash 8 aircraft. No help getting her in and in Calgary no help again. Everyone was gone, passengers, pilots and flight attendants. Just me and my… Read more »

Les Kronfsky

IF Canadian Airlines had it in it, it would have survived. It was just not well run. And the unions were so militant ! I recall they were on the financial brink and that Buzz Hargrove did not want to have his unions assist in its survival by lowering wages… Read more »

Gina Tartini

I was a flight attendant with Canadian Airlines starting in 1987. It was a wonderful company to work for. We we were unionized and and paid appropriated. Our meals were hot and delicious and our beverage service was also comparable. Didn’t have to pay for every alcoholic drink that you… Read more »

GinaTartini

I was a flight attendant with Canadian Airlines starting in 1987. It was a wonderful company to work for. We were unionized and paid appropriately. We served hot meals and are beverage service was comparable. I was 29 years old when I started and most of my colleagues were in… Read more »

skip

I remember Canadian airlines very fondly …the flight attendants were awesome …they were always smiling and very obliging … The food was always good ….I never had a bad experience with Canadian . When Canadian merged with Air Canada some of the flight attendants went as well …they always made… Read more »

Gia Ionnozi

Anybody who thinks that if Canadian Airlines somehow survived to this day and would be offering full service like they did in the 80s and 90s are folks who are living in LaLa land…perhaps another reason they failed financially….they could not control their costs… different world today…WestJet would have been… Read more »

David

If Pacific Western had got its act together and realized what an opportunity they had – a Calgary based 737 operator, sound familiar? – then there would never have been a Westjet. Likewise if CAIL (or whatever it was by that stage) had realized what a gem it had in… Read more »

JOAN REYNOLDS

I was a frequent international traveller with Canadian Airlines (long haul, short hall economy and business class) – and worked in the Customs/baggage area as well, so I have seen both sides of their operation. Compared to most other airlines (including Air Canada) CPA was by far the best in… Read more »

Matthew M

The article misses the true story of Canadian Airlines and merely parlays the Wikipedia story. Canadian Airlines was a world-class combination of CP and Pacific Western. Nordair, (Wardair and others were minor appendages.) CP had a proud international reputation dominated by its Pacific orientation and a orange livery. Pacific Western… Read more »

Gilles L

The government forced poor Air Canada to take on debt ridden , militant unionized Canadian Airlines. It was all politics. If it was so good, why did it not survive ? It was the egos of a bunch of b**e headed Canadian Airline executives who thought they could be a… Read more »

Kevin Sjoatad

Canadian Airlines was a mess ! Poor service, rude staff… that is what happens when you merge a group of small podunk Airlines together…and don t even get me started on those creaky old airplanes they would use! Truly a sorry excuse for an airline. The top bosses made their… Read more »

Robert

It would appear there are various opinions on why Canadian Airlines no longer exists. I am sure there were good flights and bad flights just as today. We tend to look back with rose coloured glasses. You can not compare the service or lack of service on today’s flights with… Read more »

Kjelll S

Bad bad airline. Business study for how NOT to run an airline.

Robin Prior

I live in San Francisco, and I would go visit friends in Europe and family in the UK, and during the time that Canadian existed, I flew many time back and forth. I remember good food, good service and free drinks. I also remember my round trip air-fare was about… Read more »

Minako

My family was a frequent flyer on Canadi>n Airlines in the 1990s on their Pacific route before the merger with AC. No complaints, helped us stay connected. Wonderful staff and services that is genuinely missed in today’s aviation world. The best days of the airline industry was 20 years ago… Read more »

John

I remember them I flew with them to Toronto, Vancouver, Honolulu, and London Heathrow. They where really comparable to what air canada is today, which may not be much too a lot of ppl. The only benefit too that scenario was that air canada or Canadian would have airfare wars… Read more »