Seat selection and baggage fees come into force on VIA Rail

By Transport Action | Intercity Rail and Bus

May 30
The interior of a VIA Rail business class car, showing unoccupied seats in a 2+1 configuration.

When the new VIA Rail reservation system was launched in November 2023, all fees for baggage and seat selection were waived for a limited time. As expected, these fees are now being applied, taking effect on June 10, 2024.

Unfortunately, the “Escape” fare type also becomes completely non-exchangeable as well as non-refundable, which is a significant disadvantage for passengers.

Seat selection details

Seat selection is included for passengers purchasing Business Plus and Economy Plus fares, which was expected, and will also remain free for Economy fares. A fee of $7 per segment will be charged for seat selection when travelling on an Escape fare.

For Business passengers, there is a more significant change with all single seats now being considered “premium,” rather than the facing pairs and quads which had previously been marked as “premium” in ReserVIA’s seat diagrams. Passengers travelling on a regular Business fare will have to pay a seat selection fee to pick one of the single seats, although picking any of the paired seats will remain free or charge, and it will still be possible for passengers to automatically be assigned one of the single seats.

The seat selection diagrams on the VIA Rail website still lack details of window placements, so it will be possible for a customer to pay a fee for seat selection and then inadvertently select a seat with an obstructed view, leading to dissatisfaction.

Somewhat confusingly, seat selection fees are applied per journey segment, while baggage fees are charged per direction.

Baggage fees reintroduced at a lower rate

Notable, the second bag fee for Economy class passengers now varies by fare type, with a $25 fee for Escape fares, $20 for Economy, and only $15 dollars for passenger travelling Economy Plus, rather than $25 for all passengers, and this is lower than the $40 fee for a second bag that applied before November 2023.

However, the perk of a free second bag for students, which applied before the new reservation system was introduced, has not been reinstated. Limited baggage space and less advantageous pricing will continue to be a challenge to VIA Rail’s ability to serve this key segment of the passenger market.

The number of extra bags that can be booked per train is limited, to avoid overflowing baggage racks and obstructed aisles, and there are no options to book any more than two bags.

The strict limit on baggage is also known to be a problem for passengers arriving by air in Canada who are not aware of VIA Rail’s rules, and are used to railways with more relaxed baggage policies.

Still waiting for bicycles

VIA Rail has also yet to reintroduce the carriage of bicycles on trains in the Quebec-Windsor corridor. Not all of the older stainless steel and LRC cars have bike spaces, so the reason given for suspending this service was not being able to guarantee availability. With all Quebec-Montreal-Ottawa services now being assigned the new Venture equipment, we hope that the bicycle spaces on those trains will soon be offered for reservations.

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