Christopher Reynolds The Canadian Press
The Toronto Star July 16, 2019
MONTREAL – Transport Minister Marc Garneau said he was “surprised” and “disappointed” by legal action from Canadian airlines to quash new rules to beef up compensation for passengers subjected to delayed flights and damaged luggage.
“We feel that we have done our homework very, very carefully in consultation with the airlines and with other stakeholders,” Garneau told reporters Monday, when the first phase of long-promised air travel regulations took effect.
“We feel that the passenger rights that we’ve put in place are going to stand up and that they’re very fair to both passengers and to the airlines.”
Air Canada and Porter Airlines Inc., along with 17 other applicants that include the International Air Transport Association – which counts WestJet Airlines Ltd. among its 290-odd member airlines – state in a court filing that mandatory compensation under the passenger bill of rights violates international standards and should be rendered invalid.
The June 28 court application argues that the passenger bill of rights contravenes the Montreal Convention, a multilateral treaty, by setting compensation amounts based on the length of the flight delay and “irrespective of the actual damage suffered.”
Consumer advocates, however, say the rules do not go far enough, arguing that airlines’ exemption from compensating customers in situations “outside of the airline’s control” uses too broad a definition and amounts to a loophole.
A second batch of rules, set to roll out in December, imposes no obligation on airlines to pay customers for delays or cancellations if they were caused by mechanical problems discovered in a pre-flight check – walking around the aircraft before takeoff looking for defects – rather than during scheduled maintenance – more thorough inspections required after 100 hours cumulatively in the air.
“Airlines understandably cannot be held responsible for acts of sabotage or medical emergencies, yet there are other circumstances listed as outside of carriers’ control in the air passenger protection regulations that raise serious questions, such as labour disruptions and manufacturing defects in an aircraft,” said advocacy group Flight Claim Canada in a release.
“The list is also non-exhaustive – a gap that airlines will use to their advantage to the detriment of air passengers.”
Garneau insisted terms are clearly defined, and reiterated that delays or cancellations following a pre-flight check do not, in his view, warrant, compensation.
“We believe that we’ve made it very clear what is within the airline’s control and what is not within the airline’s control,” he said.
The new rules align roughly with those in the U.S., but do not match European Union standards that deem most mechanical defects within the airlines’ control.
The first phase of regulations that came into force Monday require prompt updates and clear communication with passengers about their rights if their flight is delayed or cancelled.
Travellers can receive up to $2,400 if bumped from a flight and up to $2,100 for lost or damaged luggage.
In the event of a tarmac delay, aircraft must return to the gate after three hours. An extra 45 minutes is allowed if takeoff is likely.