Minister of Transport Marc Garneau responds to a question during Question Period in the House of Commons in Ottawa, Tuesday, Nov. 3, 2020. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Adrian Wyld

Minister of Transport Marc Garneau responds to a question during Question Period in the House of Commons in Ottawa, Tuesday, Nov. 3, 2020. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Adrian Wyld

Garneau directs CTA to develop new rules for flight cancellation refunds

Federal Transport Minister Marc Garneau is directing the Canadian Transportation Agency to strengthen rules that require airlines to refund passengers for cancelled flights.

In a statement Monday, Garneau said the pandemic has highlighted a gap in Canada’s protections for airline passengers, which weren’t designed to cover such lengthy delays.

“In the event of a future situation that causes similar large-scale flight cancellations, this gap needs to be closed so that travellers are treated fairly,” Garneau said.

The announcement comes as various consumer groups lobby the government to mandate that airlines issue cash refunds, rather than travel vouchers, for flights that were cancelled due to COVID-19.

Scott Streiner, chair and chief executive officer of the CTA, said the agency’s goal is to have the new regulations in place by next summer.

One of the biggest details to be worked out between now and then include how long customers have to wait after a cancelled flight before they are entitled to a refund, Streiner said.

The agency is launching a public consultation between now and Jan. 28 to help determine the answer to that and other questions.

“This is a major priority for us,” Streiner said.

The new rules would apply to future cancellations only and will not be retroactive.

Airline passenger refunds have emerged as a point of contention between airlines and the government, which are currently negotiating the terms of an aid package for the struggling travel sector.

The federal government has said that any aid to the sector would be contingent on giving passengers full refunds for cancelled flights.

Airlines maintain that they are not legally required to issue refunds and have criticized Ottawa for its delay in issuing more assistance to the sector.