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In mid-2000, Canadians' complaints about the abysmal quality of their domestic airlines got so profuse that the Canadian government, which regulates the industry closely, created an official position whose entire function was to listen to the kvetching, try to get the airlines to listen, and summarize the results every six months. The minister of transport, David Collenette, appointed Bruce Hood.

Hood, in his new capacity, was given the power to "review any complaint about a problem that has not been resolved to the satisfaction of the travelling consumer. He has the authority to obtain any document, record or material that will help resolve a complaint. If necessary, he can also mediate, or arrange for the mediation of, a solution to the dispute." (This is from the press release announcing the appointment.)

Essentially, Hood was to be a super-ombudsman for the airlines, whose own ombudspeople were generally considered so hostile and incompetent that angry travellers left them angrier than when they started.

Hood was a referee in the National Hockey League for 21 years, which is what the press focused on when he was appointed -- presumably on the grounds that the Canadian flying public really wanted to drop the gloves, pull the airline industry's jersey over its head, and administer a fierce drubbing. Hood was generally portrayed as a bit of a goofball who was out of his depth.

The appointment wasn't quite as silly as it looked. Hood had, after all, run a travel agency after he retired from refereeing, and had been a senior official in the Association of Canadian Travel Agents, so he had some idea how the industry worked and was regulated.

In his earlier career, Hood was instrumental in setting up the NHL Officials' Association in 1969, and ran a school for referees for 20 years.

Since his appointment, Hood's been quoted saying he expected his new office to deal with two to three hundred complaints a year. He's handled 3,000, and counting.

Hood has, at this writing, issued two reports on the state of the Canadian airline industry. Both of them have been ferociously critical of the Canadian airlines, and the near-monopoly Air Canada in particular.

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