Throwing money at the massive backlog of complaints from passengers looking for compensation for missed flights won’t fix the issue, in line with advocates who’re urging Canada’s airline regulator to modernize and strengthen enforcement.
The Canadian Transportation Agency (CTA) remains to be coping with the fallout of the pandemic and has a backlog of about 42,000 complaints, in line with Federal Transport Minister Omar Alghabra. About half of those complaints are for flight disruptions.
On Tuesday, Ottawa announced $75.9 million in funding over three years to assist the agency address passenger-rights complaints and bolster the federal transportation network. The brand new funding will make it possible for the agency to rent more employees to reply to complaints, the federal government said.
Alghabra said the federal government intends to shut a loophole that lets airlines blame issues of safety to avoid compensating passengers who missed flights.
“The short answer is yes. We’re working on strengthening and clarifying the foundations,” he said at a press conference at Toronto’s Pearson International Airport on Tuesday.
“Obviously we don’t want planes to fly when it’s unsafe to achieve this. But there are specific things which are inside the control of the airlines, and we want to have clearer rules that puts the responsibility on the airlines when it’s their responsibility.”
One passenger rights advocate compared the federal government’s announcement to letting a ship with a breached hull proceed sailing, but with more sailors.
“The very first thing we want to do is seal the breach, then pump out the water,” said Gabor Lukacs, a consumer advocate and founding father of Air Passenger Rights.
Lukacs said the “entire regime must be revamped” since it’s not meeting its mandate of protecting consumers’ rights.
He said the federal government must simplify and modernize its approach to responding to complaints over compensation. The Star previously reported how long wait times for a response can discourage people from making a criticism.
“Immediately deciding the fate of $400 requires over 100 pages of evidence … This latest measure is one other evidence of presidency smokescreen,” said Lukacs, adding that Ottawa should introduce laws that requires airlines to supply compensation under more stringent rules.
The federal government introduced Air Passenger Protection Regulations (APPRs) in 2019 to make clear the explanations an airline can refuse compensations for a missed flight, with the important thing factor being whether the airline has control over the disruption or not. Overbooking of flights can be considered inside their control, whereas something like inclement weather wouldn’t.
In 2022, the regulations were updated to require airlines to rebook a flight inside 48 hours of a cancellation, even when the cancellation is outside of the airline’s control. If the corporate doesn’t rebook the flight, it must offer the passenger a refund.
But those rules aren’t price much of the CTA doesn’t actually implement them, said Matt Malone, an assistant professor at Thompson Rivers University’s faculty of law.
“The regime that exists and the penalties which are available are intended to bring the airlines into compliance. And up to now, that isn’t what we now have seen occur,” Malone said.
Not only do authorities not implement the fines as often as they must, Malone said, but additionally they rarely impose the utmost superb of $25,000: “They’ve the power to issue hefty fines, but they don’t use it.”
On Tuesday, Alghabra alluded to other changes to the CTA’s authorities in an upcoming revamped passenger Bill of Rights.
“We’re taking a look at strengthening the foundations, as I said, and maybe taking a look at increasing the authorities that the CTA has. But I leave it as much as the CTA to exercise its judgment and when and how you can impose these fines,” Alghabra said.
Within the European Union, airlines are required to compensate and supply a refund to passengers in the event that they cancel a flight for any reason that falls under its control, including mechanical problems and staffing shortages. That level of protection doesn’t exist in Canada, as airlines can and still do cite technical issues as a reason for refusing compensation.
Some, like Lukacs, say it will be prudent for Canada to think about such protections. Others, similar to George Petsikas, a college lecturer at McGill University’s Institute of Air & Space Law and a former lobbyist for the airline industry, said the circumstances in Canada require a more tailored approach.
“I’m not one who thinks you tear the entire thing down and just copy and paste the European model. I believe, mainly, the APPRs are an affordable, balanced public policy approach,” he said.
“But you do have problems … And yes, unfortunately, the recourses and the enforcement haven’t been top notch.”