Wednesday, July 30, 2008

Ode to Via Rail

There's great news in Canada. That miserable excuse for an airline, Air Canada, is closing quite a few of its bases. Terrible enough for its employees, but no doubt the chickens come home to roost for an organisation that has made offensively bad customer service the hallmark of its operations. These days there's plenty of desperate airlines out there and customers don't have to put up with Air Canada's nonsense. I wonder how many Canadians, quietly or not so quietly, are pro-actively boycotting Air Canada (as I do) after one too many bad experiences.

Anyway, compare that to Via Rail, that delightful Canadian rail company. I love Via Rail to bits. Mind you, the trains are not what us spoiled Europeans expect in terms of high-tech and speed, but they take you faster to your destination than a trip in the car, the food is nice, service usually impeccable, and they're remarkably frequently on time. Unlike Air Canada, which these days thinks nothing of cancelling your long-haul flight a few hours before your departure, using 'Act of God' as its rationale for not reimbursing you for additional expenses and inconvenience, Via staff here in Kingston were hugely apologetic for a 10 min delay of a Toronto - Montreal train. - 10 min... that's nothing.

The only nasty thing Via Rail has done recently is to replace a delightful red wine (Ontario produced at that) that came in little glass bottles with overseas made Tetra Pak products. Now, if that's done for environmental reasons, let's get some facts straight: transporting wine all the way from Spain to Canada is probably environmentally worse than using Ontario made produce. Also, 90% of bottles these days are being reccycled in Canada, while much less of the Tetra Pack stuff is finding its way into recycling schemes. In short: it is doubtful that the 'green' Tetra Pack scheme Via has come up with works.

However, unlike Air Canada, which happily SELLS you stinking hamburgers on long distance flights, Via Rail offers sandwiches these days that even have your 1:5 portion of veggies included. Good on ya Via. The other thing about Via is hat their frequent traveller points system actually works. I called them the other day and asked that some of my accumulated miles be used for a free trip to Montreal. No problem, did it on the phone in less than 5 min. Try the same with Air Canada frequent flyer miles. Almost certainly you won't be going where you'd like to go. But then, that's even true if you buy a ticket from that outfit. Guess what, Via didn't even levy fuel, taxes, looking-at-train and touching-seat surcharges on my free trip, as Air Canada would have done.

So, people, use the train whenever you can. It's environmentally friendlier than any other alternative that we have currently and you don't have to put up with the kind of crap airlines like Air Canada heap on you.


  1. Let me add my kudos to VIA also. I've taken their Toronto-Vancouver train three times and it's been a real pleasure on each occasion. Their corridor trains are fast and comfortable. And, as you say, the food is quite good ... in fact, on their trains # 1 and 2 (Toronto-Vancouver), it is really excellent.

  2. I've never heard of another travel corporation that gets marks as high as VIA, especially these days when people are fed up with the way mass transit works most of the time. I'm really looking forward to taking a VIA Rail train tour as soon as I can take a nice relaxing trip to the great white north.

  3. I think you are lucky because our recent experience with VIA was not good nor was it in line with their Vision, Mission or Values because they did not provide service excellence but rather they 'worked' to create a very negative experience and the follow up actions from pursuing this with their customer service only shows more of the same! They fined my daughter for not holding the only id card they accept for students - despite the fact that her ticket was the exact same fare that anyone could purchase - despite the fact that she had a valid student card from a Canadian University! When I finally got to speak to a customer service person to complain that the policy and why the enforcement of this rule is wrong - the only way they would refund the fine was to have us snail mail the ticket back to them to process a refund - customer service excellence- value - go the extra mile? I don't think so - what about being just a little more discretionary when charging fines to students instead of acting so callous and uncaring? And why not make the refund process a little less inconvenient- how about using those newfangled things like fax -or email? Next time - drive or take the plane - it will be cheaper - on time - and more pleasant!

  4. You are right, it seems plain silly not to accept valid student IDs from Canadian universities, and instead insisting on some international student cards that students have to purchase then separately. Just happened to a friend of mine, so I know that your story is true.

  5. Couldn't agree more. Via offers excellent food & service and even their cross-Canda service, the Canadian ran on tiem when I got it. In fact it was early! Now we just need to get their fares down a little and it could be a seriously viable alternative to airlines! My own review, in case you're intrested is at:


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