The federal government is rolling out new rules to better protect passengers when their flights go awry, including new requirements for compensation for getting bumped off flights, delays and cancellations and lost bags.
Transport Minister Marc Garneau said the measures he announced Monday will set “clear and consistent” standards of treatment.
“We are going to make sure airlines treat their passengers with the respect they deserve and live up to their commitments,” Garneau told a news conference at Ottawa International Airport.
But consumer advocates highlighted a potential catch around the compensation — airlines won’t be required to pay if the problem is deemed to be “safety related.”
“If a flight is delayed or cancelled due to the aircraft breaking down, no compensation. That is obscene,” said Gabor Lukacs, an advocate for air passenger rights.
He said that mechanical issues and weather problems account for the majority of flight disruptions, meaning that most passengers will never receive any compensation.
Lukacs said the proposed rules are “substantially inferior” to passenger protection rules in the European Union, where airlines can only avoid providing compensation under “extraordinary” circumstances.
Ian Jack, a spokesman for the Canadian Automobile Association, called it a “loophole.”
“We talked to the government about very clearly and carefully defining what a mechanical issue is” under the regulations, said Jack, adding that the Canadian Transportation Agency should have the ability to audit airline records to verify the reasons for delays.
Garneau insisted that airlines won’t use safety as a catch-all excuse to avoid paying out compensation — and if they do, he vowed that they would be penalized.
“The CTA and Transport Canada will be monitoring these situations,” Garneau said.
“Everything that they report can be checked.”
Under the draft regulations, which will apply to all flights to and from Canada, and those within Canada, airlines would be required to provide passengers with food, drink and free Wi-Fi after delays of two hours, and accommodation if the delay stretches overnight.
Compensation of up to $1,000 would be required for lengthy flight delays and cancellations.
Determining the exact level of compensation is complex and will vary, depending on the length of delay — measured at arrival, not departure — and the cause and whether it was in the airline’s control.
Passengers flying on large airlines will be entitled to more compensation — as much as $1,000 for delays of nine hours or more — compared to smaller airlines.
There is compensation of up to $2,400 if a passenger is denied boarding and is delayed reaching their destination because an airline has overbooked the flight.
Massimo Bergamini, president of the National Airlines Council of Canada, which represents the country’s biggest carriers, said the airlines will be carefully reviewing details of the proposed regulations when they are formally published this weekend.
But he said the government has framed air travel woes as an “airline-centric problem” without taking into account other issues that irritate travellers, noting complaints about lineups at security screening and immigration and customs checks.
Bruce Campion-Smith is a columnist with Torstar Syndication Services.