Editorial Cartoon by Graeme MacKay, The Hamilton Spectator – Thursday April 27, 2023
Omar Alghabra defends proposed air passenger protection overhaul
As an airline crew member, Omar Alghabra bids farewell to Canadian passengers seeking cheaper airfares across the border in the U.S. airports with a “buh bye now” that may not be as jocular as it sounds. The proposed overhaul of air passenger rights rules in Canada by the Liberal government would ensure that airlines are held accountable for delivering the obligations they’ve committed to their passengers. The new regulations would also hike fines for airlines that don’t comply with Canadian Transportation Agency rules and limit situations where airlines can deny compensation for delays and damaged or lost luggage. Despite criticisms from airlines and advocacy groups, Transport Minister Omar Alghabra asserts that the proposal would protect consumers and shift the burden onto airlines.
Critics, however, have expressed concerns about the loopholes that may still exist and the possibility of increased ticket prices. Air Passenger Rights advocacy group president Gábor Lukács has accused the government of misleading Canadians about the new rules. Lukács argues that the new regulations could still allow airlines to deny compensation for cancellations and delays “required for safety purposes,” as those four words remain peppered throughout the fine text. He also believes that airlines can avoid fines by entering into “compliance agreements.”
In an interview on CBC Radio’s As It Happens, Alghabra disagrees with Lukács, saying that the proposal removes the loopholes that airlines could have used to justify not compensating passengers and ensures that airlines are held accountable for delivering their obligations to passengers. The proposed regulations also define new service standards that airlines need to follow, including providing food and access to telecommunication when customers are waiting for a snowstorm to end. Alghabra asserts that the new regulations are the toughest in the world, and airlines will be required to fund complaints at the Canadian Transportation Agency.
While the National Airlines Council of Canada argues that these rules will lead to higher ticket prices, Alghabra is surprised and says that they are not asking airlines to do more than what they promised customers they would do. The proposed regulations will only hold airlines responsible for what they promised customers and not what they don’t control. Alghabra believes that the new regulations will be better for customers, airlines, and everyone.
In terms of concerns about the lack of competition in Canada’s airline industry, Alghabra asserts that Canada has more competition than ever before, with Air Canada, WestJet, Porter, Flair, Lynx, and some regional airlines expanding. He believes that the environment will be hospitable for airlines and will protect airline workers while ensuring that they are well-compensated and that Canadian jobs in the air sector continue.
As an airline crew member, Alghabra’s “buh bye now” might be an indication that Canada’s air travel system is undergoing significant changes. The proposed overhaul of air passenger rights rules in Canada, while not perfect, is a step in the right direction, protecting consumers and holding airlines accountable for delivering their obligations to passengers.