After more than a year of bare bones inflight service due to the COVID-19 pandemic, Canadians travelling by air can once again enjoy snacks, hot meals or a glass of wine on the plane.
But this return to a degree of normalcy — while welcomed by many — is also making it harder for airlines to enforce rules around mask-wearing and may be contributing to a recent uptick in unruly passenger behaviour, according to a flight attendants’ union.
The Canadian Union of Public Employees — which represents more than 15,000 flight attendants at nine different Canadian airlines, including WestJet, Air Canada and Transat — says passenger disobedience, rudeness and aggressive behaviour is on the rise and jeopardizing the health and well-being of airline employees.
CUPE National senior officer for health and safety Troy Winters said many of the problems stem from passengers who refuse to obey the federal requirement to wear a face mask on board, a problem he said has grown worse since the summer, when airlines began reintroducing food and beverage service.
“Even before they brought back the return to some level of service, we’d have people who would bring on a coffee. And then they’d sit there, and they’d sip that coffee for an hour and a half,” Winters said.
“This has kind of been the trick people have been using to not wear their masks on the plane since the mandate was introduced, so restoring food and beverage service has definitely made it worse.”
According to Transport Canada, incidences of passenger non-compliance with the mask mandate spiked over the summer. Airlines reported 330 passengers to the regulator for refusing to wear a mask during July and August, more than twice the number of incidents reported in April and May.
“For flight attendants, it’s the stress of having to be the mask police, and knowing the only reason you’re going down this aisle is someone is doing something they shouldn’t and you’re going to have some level of conflict,” Winters said.
Winters said Transport Canada needs to do more to address the issue. The regulator’s official guidance is still that airlines should limit non-essential tasks, including inflight service. Winters said the regulator should take a stricter stance on enforcing that guidance, at least on short flights, or else set a limit on the amount of time a passenger can have their mask off to eat and drink.
WestJet Airlines Ltd. spokeswoman Morgan Bell said in an emailed statement the airline has issued 118 travel bans against passengers for refusing to wear a mask since the Calgary-based airline introduced its “zero tolerance” policy in September of 2020. But she said WestJet does not believe reintroducing inflight service is a driving factor.
“The reality is a lot of travellers are out of travel practice and haven’t been on an airplane in more than 19 months, which we believe speaks more to the challenges and small percentage of unruly situations we are encountering,” Bell said.
Not all flight attendants believe food and beverage service is driving the problems, either. Chris Rauenbusch, an active cabin crew employee with WestJet and president of the Canadian Union of Public Employees (CUPE) Local 4070, said a lack of expected creature comforts can actually cause passengers to lash out.
“Prior to (the restoration of inflight service) there were a lot of tempers flaring because of lack of ability to buy an alcoholic drink, lack of food choices,” Rauenbusch said.
In an emailed statement, Montreal-based Air Canada said food and beverage service is an important aspect of customers’ “travel journey.” The airline pointed out passengers were already bringing their own food and beverages to consume on board during earlier stages of the pandemic.
“Our flight attendants are professionals who ensure all customers on board can partake of food and beverages while adhering to all required safety protocols,” the statement said.
Barry Prentice, an expert in transportation economics at the University of Manitoba, said he is curious what will happen to the mask mandate after Nov. 1, at which point Canadian air travellers will be required by the federal government to be double-vaccinated.
“If everyone you are flying with is double-vaxxed, and if the air filtration in the cabin is as good as they say it is, what’s the benefit of being masked?” Prentice said.
In the meantime, Prentice said he thinks denying passengers basic levels of service could backfire.
“For a lot of people this (flying in a pandemic) is a very stressful environment, and to the degree that a cup of coffee or a cookie can help to calm people down, I think there’s some merit in it,” he said.
This report by The Canadian Press was first published Oct. 1, 2021.
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UBS logs surprise 9% rise in Q3 net profit
UBS posted a 9% rise in third-quarter net profit on Tuesday, as continued trading helped the world’s largest wealth manager to its best quarterly profit since 2015.
Its third-quarter net profit of $2.279 billion far outpaced a median estimate of $1.596 billion from a poll of 23 analysts compiled by Switzerland’s largest bank.
“Our business momentum, our focus on fueling growth, on disciplined execution and on delivering our full ecosystem to clients – all of this led to another strong quarter across all of our business divisions and regions,” Chief Executive Ralph Hamers said in a statement.
In each of the last four quarters, UBS saw double-digit percent gains in net profit as buoyant markets helped it generate higher earnings off of managing money for the rich.
From July through September, favourable market conditions, and higher lending and trading amongst its wealthy clientele, unexpectedly helped raise earnings over the bumper levels reported in the third quarter of last year.
(Reporting by Oliver Hirt and Brenna Hughes Neghaiwi; Editing by Michael Shields and Edwina Gibbs)
Analysis: Capitol Hill drug pricing reform opponents among the biggest beneficiaries of pharma funds
Democratic Party lawmakers holding up proposed drug pricing reforms are among the largest beneficiaries of the pharmaceutical industry’s push to stave off price cuts, a Reuters analysis of public lobbying and campaign data shows.
The industry, which traditionally gives more to Republicans, channeled around 60% of donated campaign funds to Democrats this year. It has spent over $177 million on lobbying and campaign donations in 2021.
Nonprofit political action committees (PACs) run by Pfizer Inc and Amgen Inc and the Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers of America (PhRMA) were among the biggest donors, according to political spending data from OpenSecrets, formerly the Center for Responsive Politics.
Drugmakers are seeking to block laws that would give the U.S. government authority to negotiate prices for prescription medicines. Current U.S. law bars the government’s Medicare health insurance program from negotiating drug prices directly.
Many of the Democrats opposing an ambitious drug reduction bill proposed in the House of Representatives are among some of the biggest recipients of drug manufacturer lobbying funds.
They include Senators Kyrsten Sinema of Arizona, Robert Menendez of New Jersey, and Representative Scott Peters of California, OpenSecrets data covering industry donations through September of 2021 shows. In all, they have received around $1 million in pharmaceutical and health product industry donations this year.
A spokesperson for Sinema did not respond to a request for comment on the funds she has received but said the Senator supports making drugs as cheap as possible for patients.
Menendez and Peters said the donations did not influence their views. All three said they are opposed to The Lower Drug Costs Now Act, which is sponsored by Democrats in the House of Representatives and also known as H.R.3.
Menendez and Peters have advocated for alternative scaled-back drug pricing reforms that would still allow Medicare to negotiate drug prices but would lead to significantly smaller savings.
Congressman Frank Pallone of New Jersey, who is also one of the top recipients of drugmaker donations, voted in favor of H.R.3.
Sinema, who campaigned in 2018 on cutting drug prices, told the White House she opposes allowing Medicare to negotiate them. She received about $466,000 from the industry in 2021, according to OpenSecrets data.
Peters was the top recipient of pharmaceutical industry funds in the House this year at nearly $99,550, according to OpenSecrets data. A spokesperson said Peters was not influenced by lobbying money and opposed the proposed law to protect pharmaceutical industry jobs and innovation.
Drugmakers say the Democrats’ proposed drug price overhaul would undermine their ability to develop new medicines, an argument they have used whenever price cuts are discussed by politicians regardless of political party.
“Patients face a future with less hope under Congress’ current drug pricing plan,” PhRMA Chief Executive Steve Ubl said in an August statement in reference to the proposed law. PhRMA declined to comment on donating to key Democratic opponents of the bill.
The United States is an outlier as most other developed nations do negotiate drug prices with manufacturers.
Amgen did not immediately respond to requests for comment on its donations and Pfizer declined to comment.
PROSPECTS FOR REFORM
President Joe Biden has vowed to cut medicine costs, in part by allowing the federal government to negotiate drug payments by Medicare, which covers Americans aged 65 and older.
But prospects for major drug pricing reforms have stalled in recent weeks amid opposition from centrist Democrats including Sinema and Peters. Negotiations are ongoing, eight Democratic staffers said.
The lawmakers’ resistance comes as 83% of Americans support allowing Medicare to negotiate medicine costs, according to a Kaiser Family Foundation poll. The United States spends more than twice as much per person on drugs as other wealthy economies, about $1,500, for a total of around $350 billion in 2019.
“Members of Congress don’t always mirror the views of the public and the pharmaceutical industry is a powerful lobbying force,” said Larry Levitt, a health economist at Kaiser.
The healthcare industry is the second largest industry lobbying group in the United States behind the finance sector. It donated more than $600 million to politicians ahead of the 2020 elections.
The pharmaceutical industry has spent hundreds of millions of dollars per year to sway federal and state policy. But current Democratic leadership has the industry concerned major reforms could actually be enacted and is working harder to offer alternatives such as reducing insurance co-pays, one industry source said. “It’s been sort of a mad scramble.”
Corporations in the United States are not permitted to make direct contributions to candidates but can give money through PACs. Most corporate PACs, including Pfizer’s and Amgen’s, are run by company managers and employees.
Democrats and some drug price experts say the Lower Drug Costs Now Act could save U.S. taxpayers and consumers billions annually with relatively minor impact on innovation.
A House Oversight and Reform Committee report showed that top drugmakers have spent around $50 billion more on share buybacks and dividends than research and development between 2016 and 2020.
Lovisa Gustafsson, a healthcare policy analyst at the Commonwealth Fund, a non-profit healthcare advocacy group, said, “There are other ways that we can incentivize innovation, aside from just paying huge margins for pharmaceutical companies.”
(Reporting by Ahmed Aboulenein in Washington and Carl O’Donnell in New York; Editing by Caroline Humer and Bill Berkrot)
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