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Sunday,  June 23, 2024 6:59 AM 

Proposed passenger rights overhaul “will not improve” air travel: NACC

  • Air
  •   04-25-2023  8:41 am
  •   Pax Global Media

Proposed passenger rights overhaul “will not improve” air travel: NACC
Toronto Pearson airport in August 2022. (File photo/Pax Global Media)
Pax Global Media

Ottawa’s proposed overhaul of Canada's air passenger rights charter faces criticism after Transport Minister Omar Alghabra on Monday (April 24) announced beefed-up measures that will tighten “loopholes” to traveller compensation and lead to harsher penalties.

If the changes pass, the proposed amendments to the Canada Transportation Act, which have been introduced as part of Bill C-47, will put the onus on airlines to show a flight disruption is caused by safety concerns or reasons outside their control, with specific examples to be drawn up by the Canadian Transportation Agency (CTA) as a list of exceptions around compensation.

In other words, the burden of proof will be put on airlines – not passengers.

“It will no longer be the passenger who will have to prove that he or she is entitled to compensation. It will now be the airline that will need to prove that it does not have to pay for it,” Alghabra told media yesterday.

Under the current system, a passenger is entitled to between $125 and $1,000 in compensation for a three-hour-plus delay or a cancellation made within 14 days of a scheduled departure unless the disruption is outside the airline's control, such as weather or a safety issue (like mechanical problems).

The amount can vary, depending on the size of the carrier and length of delay.

What will it accomplish?

Jeff Morrison, president, and CEO of the National Airlines Council of Canada (NACC), which represents Air Canada, Air Transat, Jazz Aviation LP and WestJet, issued a statement on Monday, denouncing the potential scrapping of safety concerns as an exception to compensation requirements.

He said the proposed amendments to the Air Passenger Protection Regulations (APPR) “will not improve the operation of Canada’s air travel system or the travel experience for customers.”

“The best passenger protection regime is a system in which travel disruptions are minimized – nothing in these legislative changes will accomplish that,” Morrison stated.

Travellers pass through Toronto Pearson airport. (Pax Global Media/file photo)

He said targeted infrastructure funding, re-investment of airport rent, increasing the accountability of third-party service providers, and reduction of costs and fees would “strengthen the system,” noting that this has already been recommended by parliamentary committees and government reports over the years.

Morrison, however, welcomed Minister Alghabra’s acknowledgement of the need for shared accountability when he indicated that airlines ought to be able to recoup costs from airports, “as airlines are the customers of airports.”

Concerns & accountablity   

But the NACC is concerned with many elements contained in the proposed legislation, such as how it addresses safety.

“Safety will always be the primary consideration for Canadian airlines.  Although revised safety parameters under the APPRs will be determined through a regulatory process, no airline should be penalized for adhering to the highest standards of safety, whether that is due to weather, mechanical issues, or other safety-related constraints,” the NACC said.

The group is also concerned about the failure to expand accountability and data sharing for any other organization in the air travel system, “despite the fact that many travel disruptions are caused by these entities, will mean that the air travel system overall will not improve.”

Minister of Transport Omar Alghabra. (File photo)

“Airlines are being forced to continue shouldering sole responsibility for all organizations in the overall system, over which they have no control.  Passengers pay for the services provided by the other participants in the air travel system via fees embedded in their ticket and should therefore expect service standards from these entities,” the NACC said.

By imposing a new fee for passenger claims submitted to the CTA and expanding compensation requirements, “the cost of air travel may increase,” the association noted.

As well, government travel advisories “are not in the airlines’ control.”

“Airlines should not be held liable if the Government of Canada implements a change in a travel advisory; unless an airline makes the decision to cancel a flight,” the association said.

The group called on Ottawa to work with the air sector to “create a stronger, more competitive air travel system for all passengers, rather than continue to wrongly single out one entity in air travel chain.”

Who's to blame?

Tabled in the House of Commons as part of a budget implementation bill last week, the amendments raise the maximum penalty for airline violations to $250,000 – a tenfold increase –  and put the regulatory cost of complaints on carriers.

Alghabra yesterday defended placing financial responsibility solely on airlines.

“The customer paid the airlines to receive a service. Therefore, the airlines are responsible for delivering that service,'' the minister said.

The new legislation also requires airlines to implement ways of dealing with air passenger rights claims and responding to complaints within 30 days.

The hiring of “complaint resolution officers'' at the CTA should also expedite the process of processing complaints, as should a 60-day maximum for the agency to handle them, advocates say.

The CTA’s complaints backlog at the agency now sits at roughly 45,000, more than triple the amount from a year ago, and requiring at least 18 months on average per case.

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