(Montreal) The Canadian Transportation Agency (CTA) presented its proposed changes to the air passenger bill of rights on Tuesday by launching consultations on the overhaul, while some observers remain skeptical.
The reforms come after the Liberal government passed legislation last month to toughen airline penalties, strengthen the complaints process and target flight disruption loopholes that have allowed airlines to avoid to compensate certain travellers.
Amendments to the Air Passenger Protection Regulations clarify the circumstances in which an airline would not have to compensate its customers, narrowing the possibilities so that most technical issues will no longer be a loophole for carriers.
The new rules would also allow customers to request a refund if the government increases the risk level of travel to certain countries or if a flight disruption prevents them from completing their trip “within a reasonable time – for example, if the rebooking offered is so late in relation to the passenger’s original departure time that the journey no longer serves its purpose”. The current threshold is 48 hours.
In addition, the changes require timely information about airline disruptions and limit to two the number of consecutive flights for which carriers can claim a “domino effect” caused by a problem elsewhere, including bad weather, such as a reason for denying compensation.
The backlog of complaints to the regulator now exceeds 52,000 cases. This number is about triple from a year ago and cases take an average of two years to settle.
The number of cases has steadily increased after the chaos at airports last summer and further turbulence during the winter holidays. While traffic has been much smoother since the start of the current travel season, airlines, including Air Canada, regularly see the proportion of flights arriving on time drop below 50% as ‘they continue to deal with post-pandemic issues.
“We’re in a bit of a mess,” observed John Lawford, executive director of the Public Interest Advocacy Center.
He questioned the idea that the so-called security loophole for compensation was really closed.
This vagueness in the rules has plagued many passengers over the past few years. It allowed airlines to deny customers compensation for flight cancellations or delays over three hours if they were “necessary for safety,” as the Canada Transportation Act states.
The proposed amendments remove this security provision. But Mr Lawford warned that the list of “exceptional circumstances” partly reversed that change.
“We’re going to have a list of things that are considered exceptional circumstances – and then put almost everything on there that was in the previous regime. »
The list of exceptions that relieve airlines of this obligation includes “failures that are discovered and impair safe operation” – potentially comparable to the mechanical problems frequently cited by carriers.
“What is a discovered fault?” Are we talking about apparent latent defects and all things product liability law? asked Mr. Lawford. Enforcement on that front would also be difficult, he said.
“This is not a recognized exception in Europe,” he added, referring to what is sometimes called the gold standard of passenger protection regimes.
However, the list excludes “technical problems inherent in the normal operation of an airline.”
The National Airlines Council of Canada (NALAC), an industry group representing four of the nation’s largest carriers, has denounced the potential removal of safety issues as an exception to compensation requirements.
“No airline should be penalized for meeting the highest safety standards, whether due to weather, mechanical issues or other safety-related constraints,” said Board Chairman Jeff Morrison, in a statement released in April.
According to the CNLAC, the path to a better travel experience goes through the modernization of airports and greater accountability of all aviation stakeholders.
Mr. Morrison also stressed that airlines should not be solely responsible for all organizations in the global system, over which they have no control.
The list of exceptional circumstances includes “problems related to the operation of the airport for which the airline is not responsible”. It remains to be clarified what those problems are – for example, whether they would include a shortage of air traffic controllers that leads to hundreds of disruptions, an issue that has arisen in recent weeks.
The transport agency on Tuesday launched a 30-day period of public consultation on the proposed reforms.
A second round of consultations by the Canadian Transportation Agency will follow a set of draft regulations, which are expected to be released after initial public consultations close on August 10.
The new rules are expected to come into force by the end of the year.