In-person consultations for airline passenger bill of rights launch Thursday
With public consultations for the long-awaited airline passenger bill of rights now underway, the head of the organization tasked with drafting compensation rules is confident that Canadians’ flying experience will vastly improve.
“This is the first time that we will have a standard set of binding rules that establish minimum standards applying to all airlines … about tarmac delays, flight delays, lost baggage,” said Scott Streiner, the chief executive officer of the Canadian Transportation Agency, the independent regulator that sets out rules and resolves disputes relating to air, rail and marine transportation.
“The fact that there is going to be one consistent set of rights that apply for all travellers on airlines flying to and from Canada, I think that will make a difference in terms of the overall travel experience.”
The CTA launched its public consultations on May 28, shortly after the federal government’s Bill C-49 — the Transportation Modernization Act — received royal assent. Under the new legislation, the CTA is required to make the regulations for a new air passenger rights regime, which will include the rules that will spell out compensation requirements for airlines.
Streiner hopes the consultations, which include an online questionnaire and eight in-person sessions located across the country, will provide insight on a range of questions about what passengers should be offered and compensated when faced with flight delays, cancellations and tarmac delays.
“I think we’re actually going to help foster a culture change where there is greater clarity across the board for both service providers and travellers as to what the basic obligations of airlines are,” he said.
The first in-person consultations will begin in Toronto on Thursday. There will be eight daylong in-person consultations across the country in total, but Streiner said more can be added depending on demand. So far, the CTA has received 10,000 visits to the consultation website, with around 2,000 questionnaires completed.
But many questions remain, including how the CTA will classify complaints. According to Streiner, under Bill C-49, incidents will fall under three categories: within an airline’s control, within an airline’s control but necessary due to safety reasons, and out of an airline’s control. The first category will include compensation, the second will outline a minimum standard but no compensation, and the third will not offer compensation but an obligation to ensure passengers can complete their itinerary.
Gabor Lukacs, founder of the advocacy group Air Passenger Rights Canada, says the new regulations will not improve the experience for air travellers, as airlines are having too much say in the process. Categorizing incidents will give an advantage to the airlines, he says.
“This doesn’t just leave a back door, this is a big gaping gate inviting airlines not to pay passengers,” Lukacs said in an interview.
“It’s a dog-and-pony show.”
Lukacs said the new regulations around compensation should be similar to the European Union’s regulations on air passenger rights, which says passengers will not receive compensation only if the cancellation or delay was due to extraordinary circumstances.
Streiner said the CTA is looking to the European and U.S. airline passenger regulations, and expects there will be “reasonable alignment” with best practices that have worked well in both jurisdictions.
“But at the end of the day, these are going to be made-in-Canada regulations,” he said. “They’ll learn from experience abroad, but reflect the realities of what it means to travel in this country.”
Once consultations wrap up on Aug. 28, the CTA will begin drafting regulations. While Streiner could not say when he hopes to have the rules for submission to cabinet, he said it will be “months, not years.”