Air Canada: “No credit? No food.”

by Janice Hough on April 29, 2010


“Cashless cabins” are nothing new in the United States. Many major carriers, including American Airlines and United Airlines, have gone away from accepting currency and travelers checks onboard. Which means passengers need to carry a credit or debit card for any purchases.

Now Air Canada has joined in the “cashless” craze, except that the Canadian flagship carrier has gone further. Their version could make travel for some people very difficult indeed.

There is a difference between this new program and most other cashless-cabin programs. Air Canada is accepting ONLY credit cards. No debit cards. Period. And accepted credit cards are limited to only Visa, Mastercard and American Express at that. (Japanese Credit Card bureau and Diners Club will be accepted for duty-free purchases only.)

Passengers will be able to pre-purchase meal vouchers for C$7 if they check-in online, but again, only with an approved credit card.

I certainly understand the fact that credit cards are easier for flight attendants to deal with on board and eliminate the tiresome process of making change. But by not accepting debit cards, Air Canada is potentially putting travelers in a difficult position.

First, many young travelers, even those old enough to travel alone without “unaccompanied minor” status (12 years and up), simply do not carry credit cards. Many teenagers and young adults may only have debit cards.

In this current economy, many adults have decided to forego credit, limiting themselves to debit cards as a way of managing their money. Not to mention others who may simply have had credit problems in the past and carry debit cards and/or cash only for that reason.

An Air Canada spokeswoman, Angela Mah, pointed out in an e-mail to the Calgary Sun that “Many airports have concession merchants who sell food. We have always welcomed customers to bring food on board for consumption.”

True enough, but as many travelers have learned, security lines and other issues often mean that airport time is too limited to stand in line again for food. Ditto, when faced with late connecting flights.

In the grand scheme of things, there are worse hassles in air travel these days than not being able to buy food. On the other hand, on a 5- to 6-hour flight, say, between Montreal and California, being stuck with nothing available for sustenance beyond free soft drinks and juices could be very unpleasant indeed.

The same for travelers being stuck next to a hungry child or teenager. Although many other travelers might help out in that situation, if for self-defense more than any other reason.

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  • Joe M

    I don’t know if this is the case for all debit cards, but my debit card can be run as a credit card. I do this all the time for places where I don’t want to enter my pin (such as gas pumps).

    As I understood the paperwork when I got the card, the Visa logo meant it was usable everywhere that accepts Visa — not just places that accept debit cards.

  • http://leftcoastsportsbabe Janice Hough

    Air Canada says absolutely no debit cards. Will be interesting to see what happens.

  • Kairho

    Joe M is correct for the majority of debit cards … they can easily be run as credit cards. The difference is that a PIN is not required. Further, there is nothing special done by the merchant to indicate whether it is debit or credit. It cannot even be determined from the number.

    So I believe that someone could use a debit card (as a credit card) and simply respond “credit” when asked if the card is debit or credit. Problem easily solved.

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  • BradInToronto

    There is a big difference between debit cards in Canada and the US. In the US, debit cards are co-branded as Visa/Mastercard, and can be run through as normal credit cards with no PIN. Thus, there is no problem with US airlines accepting debit cards.

    In Canada, debit cards are NOT branded Visa/Mastercard. They are linked through a totally separate network (Interac), and must be verified with a PIN number. While not an impossible challenge, that certainly does make accepting them on board more difficult.

  • Graham

    InChip and Pin environments any domestic card without a PIN is useless. I’ve even found that my UK issued chip and pin cards (both debit and credit) needed their PIN in New Zealand and Canada; not always, but often.

    As for whether you can spot a debit from a credit card just from the number; yes you can. All Visa cards may start with a 4 but the next 2/3 numbers tell you a wealth of information about the issuiing bank and card status.

  • Joe M

    @BradInToronto: That makes total sense. I wasn’t aware that banks in Canada were issuing non-cobranded cards.

    I remember that some banks in the US used to issue non-cobranded cards as well. I guess that situations like this made them the rarity they seem to be now.

  • THeicom

    At least in the USA, whatever happened to “For all debts public and private”? Printed on every denomination of paper currancy.

  • BradInToronto

    THeicom: From my understanding (which may be incorrect), that statement means that any currency must be legally accepted to pay off a debt. But that does not require any private company to accept given types of tender for a sales transaction.

  • Tanya

    Yeah,I agree 100%

  • Stephanie

    OK – I have been trying to find out if I can bring my own food from home (therefore NOT purchased AFTER going through security) for my Air Canada flight from Toronto to Vancouver. None of the sites I have looked at make that clear.

    Can anyone answer me definitively? Thanks!!!

  • http://leftcoastsportsbabe Janice

    There aren’t food restrictions as long as you aren’t bringing liquids, ie. soups and stews. Sandwiches and salads etc are fine.

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