The turmoil continues for Canada’s airline industry.
After being grounded for much of the COVID-19 pandemic, many airlines are facing another challenge — thousands of complaints from travelers demanding compensation.
According to the Canadian Transportation Agency (CTA), it received 20,978 air travel complaints from April 1 to October 31, 2022.
The CTA’s website also points out that these are only the complaints officially filed with the agency, not those handled by the airlines themselves.
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Gábor Lukács, founder of the group Air Passenger Rights, told Global News that airlines must take responsibility for some of the problems plaguing travelers.
“They can’t push the envelope so far as to claim everything is a safety issue,” he said.
Lukács referred to complaints from passengers who canceled or delayed flights due to crew restrictions and IT outages. Passengers told Global News they were denied compensation because the airline said those things were “out of their control”.
“It doesn’t matter what the airline thinks about a matter, it matters what the law says,” Lukács pointed out.
“When an airline experiences an IT issue, it’s generally within an airline’s control.”
The longtime consumer advocate added that all airlines have a “contractual obligation” to get fliers to and from their destination in a reasonable amount of time, regardless of what’s going on.
“If your flight is cancelled, the airline must book you on the next available flight,” he added.
Lukács went on to say that if the airline refuses, passengers should book their own flight with a competitor and then try to get a refund from the original airline.
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Steps travelers can take to get compensation
So what can passengers do if the airline won’t accommodate their compensation request? Lukács pointed out several ways to attract their attention.
- Send a letter or email to the airline documenting everything that happened
- Claim compensation under the Air Passenger Protection Regulations
- Allow the airline 30 days to respond
- File in small claims court if the airline refuses to pay or fails to provide an adequate explanation as to why it is not paying
However, Lukács does not recommend filing a complaint with the CTA, adding that he believes they are part of the problem.
“I would discourage passengers from going through the Canadian Transportation Agency,” he said.
“They are cozy with the airlines. They do not help passengers in the vast majority of cases.”
He added that the GTA has a large backlog of complaints to process.
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The CTA told Global News it is an independent, quasi-judicial tribunal and economic regulator. It added that it does have to engage with industry stakeholders to carry out some of its regulatory functions, but that does not make it biased.
“This does not affect the ability of the CTA to decide matters affecting the rights and interests of parties in an independent and impartial manner.”
Regarding the backlog of complaints, the GTA said all complaints are eventually processed. It added that it can now process around 15,000 complaints per year compared to the 5,000 complaints (per year) before the pandemic.
Global News also reached out to the Minister of Transport. His office told us, “passengers have rights and they must be respected.”
The spokeswoman said passengers are further protected thanks to new rules added on Sept. 8, and that the federal government has provided an additional $11 million to the CTA to allow it to handle passenger disputes in a more timely manner.
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