When it comes to air passenger rights, EU legislation leads the pack and are a benchmark for other countries. In US, the Department of Transportation does a good job of protecting and informing passenger of their rights. In Canada however, there is no binding set of regulations that passengers can lean on. Canada Transport Agency (CTA), that is tasked with adjudicating passenger complaints against airlines, does a lack-luster job at best. In Canada, airlines like to throw $10 food vouchers at every passenger complaint in the name of “our policy is..”. 2018 however, promises to be a watershed year for Canadian passenger rights – Canadian parliament , through the CTA, has launched a full scale public consultation process to nail down a new Passenger Bill Of Rights – You can have your say!

Background – Canadian Passenger Bill Of Rights

Dr. Dao was dragged off a United flight (in US), the aftermath accentuated the lack of passenger rights. In Canada, two Air Transat flights stranded passengers on tarmac for over 6 hours, without food, water, or fresh air in Canada. Were Canadian regulations in place to handle such situations? Air Passengers Bill of Rights or Bill-C49 was rushed through by the government. Well, not exactly in that sequence but Dr. Dao and Air Transat incidents did play catalyst. Bill C-49 was touted to be the savior of Canadian passenger rights, except, in its original form it turned out to be a lump of coal. Among smattering of good distractions, Bill C-49 included shaving protections away from Canadians, this included;

  • Excluding “mechanical malfunctions” from compensation for flight disruptions
  • Increasing tarmac delay limits from 90 minutes to three hours
  • Barring the rights of Public Interest Advocacy groups from filing complaints on behalf of affected passengers

According to Dr. Gabor Lukacs, founder and co-ordinator of Air Passenger Rights, “Although the government portrayed Bill C-49 as improving the passengers’ rights, this is clearly not the case. The Bill seeks to remove or reduce rights that passengers already have.” Eventually, Transport Minister Marc Garneau backtracked and admitted that the legislation Bill C-49 never contained the Passenger Bill of Rights.

Fast Forward to May, 2018 – Passenger Bill Of Rights

Passenger Bill of Rights

Photo Source: US DOT/transportation.gov

Transportation Modernization Act Bill C-49 was passed by the Parliament, and mandated the Canadian Transportation Agency (CTA) to develop regulations for airlines’ obligation to air passengers. In order to develop regulations in this realm, CTA has launched a three-month  public consultation process, which includes;

  • In person sessions
  • Questionnaires
  • Written submission feedback
  • Comments on specific topics (Flight Delays/Cancellations, Denied Boarding, Lost or Damaged Bags, Tarmac Delays etc.)

The in-person sessions are scheduled across Canada (Registration Required) as listed below, including a live online event on July 5th;

  • Toronto – June 14, Sheraton Centre Toronto Hotel
  • Vancouver – June 18 , Metropolitan Hotel Vancouver
  • Calgary – June 20, The Westin Calgary
  • Yellowknife – June 22, Quality Inn & Suites Yellowknife
  • Winnipeg – June 25, Delta Hotels Winnipeg
  • Montreal – June 27, InterContinental Montreal
  • Halifax – June 29, Atlantica Hotel
  • Ottawa – July 04, Delta Hotels Ottawa City Centre
  • Live online event – July 05

My concerns around the consultation process

In theory it’s a great democratic process. Unfortunately, CTA as an agency does not enjoy air passengers’ trust in Canada. For too long, it has served the interests of airlines. Over the years, number of complaints against airlines have increased while actions by CTA towards airlines have decreased – this remains a worrying trend.  Case in point, when two Air Transat flights stranded passengers on tarmac for over 6 hours, without food, water, or fresh air, the penalty levied by CTA (after media outcry) was a meager $295,000 CAD – With a caveat that the fine may be waived if the sum was divided among 590 passengers. Several other incidents and past verdicts point that CTA has not had passenger rights at the forefront of its decision making.

With the public consultation process handed to CTA, their role is to review feedback and make recommendations to government. The new regulations will establish airlines’ minimum obligation to passengers in specific scenarios.

Take Away

Although I do not have the greatest of confidence in CTA as an agency, I strongly believe that Canada needs a set of regulations that hold airlines responsible for infringing air passenger rights. The public consultation process would hold true meaning if we “show up” in large numbers with our feedback and demands. I urge everyone reading this to participate in the consultation process, share your experiences and list your expectations going forward. If it were up to me, EU Air passenger rights would be the framework to strive towards.

Major Hat Tip to Air Passenger Rights (Advocacy group – independent nonprofit network of volunteers) for keeping us informed and updated on relevant matters. Their Facebook group is testament to the challenges passengers face in Canada, and the hard yards the volunteers put in to keep passengers informed.