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Monday,  May 20, 2024 9:44 PM 

Burden of air passenger rules should be on airlines, not travellers: Alghabra

Burden of air passenger rules should be on airlines, not travellers: Alghabra
Transport Minister Omar Alghabra. (File photo)
Michael Pihach

Michael Pihach is an award-winning journalist with a keen interest in digital storytelling. In addition to PAX, Michael has also written for CBC Life, Ryerson University Magazine, IN Magazine, and Michael joins PAX after years of working at popular Canadian television shows, such as Steven and Chris, The Goods and The Marilyn Denis Show.

The Canadian government is looking at strengthening its air passenger protection regulations so complaints against airlines are settled before they reach the heavily-backlogged Canadian Transportation Agency (CTA).

In an interview that aired Saturday (Jan. 7), Transport Minister Omar Alghabra told CBC Radio's The House that Ottawa is looking at ways to beef up air passenger protections at a time of rising anger and frustration with Canada’s airlines. 

"Currently, it feels to many passengers that the burden is on them," Alghabra told CBC. "We want to make sure we put rules in place to ensure that the burden is on the airline."

This is the second time the Transport Minister has made remarks of this nature over the past two months.

Last November, Minister Alghabra said the Canadian government was working on enhancing its air passenger bill of rights after a turbulent summer of airport and airline inefficiencies.

READ MORE: Passenger bill of rights to be strengthened, says Alghabra; CTA complaints slow down

That same month, Alghabra met with the aviation sector at a summit, where issues facing air transportation, along with possible solutions for improving the passenger experience, were discussed ahead of the busy winter travel season.

Travellers pass through Toronto Pearson airport in June of 2022. (Pax Global Media/file photo)

But whatever optimism sprung from that meeting was crushed over the holidays as airports and airlines, once again, struggled with operational issues after a winter storm slammed into both Vancouver and Toronto in the days leading up to Christmas. 

The weather event crippled flight schedules nationwide, delaying flights by hours – even days, in some cases – and left some passengers stranded in destinations in Mexico and the Caribbean.

Burden should be on airlines, not passengers

Canada’s air passenger protections took effect in 2019.

The regulations were amended last October as officials tried to close a loophole that left some passengers unable to get refunds during the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic when thousands of flights were cancelled.

Airline must compensate passengers when a flight is delayed or cancelled for a reason that is within the airline's control.

READ MORE: Ottawa meets with air sector to discuss lessons learned from a chaotic summer

Carriers must also refund passengers for cancellations and lengthy delays if customers can't be rebooked on another available flight within 48 hours — even when the airline is not at fault due to situations like weather delays or labour conflicts.

Alghabra, over the weekend, didn't share any specifics about what Ottawa’s strengthened measures will look like.  

But he did suggest that he would like to see more responsibility placed on airlines to compensate passengers before complaints are filed.

While the number of complaints to the CTA has swelled over the past few months, the agency has been dealing with a backlog of air passenger complaints since the regulations were first introduced in 2019.

Resolving an air passenger complaint appears to be a long and lengthy process.

CTA officials recently told a parliamentary committee that some complaint files could be shelved for as long as 18 months before they are completed. 

The CTA has been drowning in a backlog of complaints from air passengers who say they’ve been denied compensation for disrupted air travel.

In August 2022, the CTA’s backlog stood at 18,200 amid a surge of new complaints.

That number rose to more than 30,000 complaints by the end of November 2022 after a stressful summer of flight delays and cancellations.

Ottawa has allocated funding to the CTA in recent years — including $11 million in April's budget — to tackle the ballooning backlog. But Alghabra says the government needs to stop throwing money at the problem and apply more tangible solutions.

"We're looking at not only what other resources [we can provide] but are there processes that we can streamline to make it more efficient so it takes less time," he told media last November.

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