Editorial Cartoon by Graeme MacKay, The Hamilton Spectator – Thursday March 16, 2023
Transport Minister pledges to close passenger compensation loophole used by airlines
Transport Minister Omar Alghabra said Tuesday the federal government will close a loophole that allows airlines to deny customers compensation for cancelled flights.
The reform will come as part of an overhaul of passenger rights to be tabled in Parliament this spring, he said at a news conference.
Asked whether he would end the exemption that lets carriers reject compensation claims by citing safety issues, Alghabra answered in the affirmative.
“The short answer is yes. We are working on strengthening and clarifying the rules to ensure that we make a distinction,” he said.
“Obviously we don’t want planes to fly when it’s unsafe to do so. But there are certain things that are within the control of the airlines, and we need to have clearer rules that puts the responsibility on the airlines when it’s their responsibility.”
Alghabra’s pledge came during a news conference at Toronto’s Pearson airport Tuesday morning, where he promised an additional$75.9 million over three years to reduce the backlog of complaints at the Canadian Transportation Agency (CTA).
The money will allow the transport regulator to hire 200 more employees who can chip away at the 42,000 complaints currently filed there, he said.
“The backlog is huge.”
The announcement comes after the government topped up the agency’s funding by $11 million last year – shortly before travel chaos erupted over the summer as flight demand surged, prompting another wave of complaints.
Gabor Lukacs, president of the Air Passenger Rights advocacy group, expressed skepticism that the new cash will make a big dent in the backlog.
“The government is throwing good money after bad,” he said. “It will not improve lack of enforcement on its own.”
Alghabra hinted at other changes upcoming in a revamped passenger rights charter, including potential reforms to the regulator’s role as an investigative and enforcement body.
“We are looking at strengthening the rules, as I said, and perhaps looking at increasing the authorities that the CTA has. But I leave it up to the CTA to exercise its judgment and when and how to impose these fines,” Alghabra told reporters.
The agency has a dual mandate as a tribunal handling complaints and a regulatory authority, though advocates say it has not gone far enough to punish violations under the latter. (The Globe & Mail)