Minister of Transport Omar Alghabra speaks at a news conference on proposed changes to air passenger rights, in Ottawa, on Monday, April 24, 2023. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Justin Tang

Airlines ‘left government no choice’ but to beef up passenger rights: Minister

Transport Minister Omar Alghabra says airlines’ use of loopholes around traveller compensation “left government with no choice” but to strengthen passenger rights rules.

Alghabra says the COVID-19 pandemic exposed gaps in the Liberals’ passenger rights charter, as carriers frequently cited safety as the reason for last-minute cancellations and delays, relieving them of their obligation to pay compensation to customers.

On Monday, the federal minister laid out reforms that put the onus on airlines to show a flight disruption was caused by safety concerns or reasons outside their control.

Tabled in the House of Commons on Thursday, the amendments also ratchet up the maximum penalty for carrier violations to $250,000 — a tenfold increase — and put the regulatory cost of complaints on carriers.

The National Airlines Council of Canada, an industry group representing four of the country’s biggest carriers, says the cost of tougher passenger protections could trickle down to travellers by way of pricier fares.

NDP transport critic Taylor Bachrach says the proposed law still leaves the so-called safety loophole in tact and falls short of European passenger rights standards.

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