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Indemnifications: confidentiality agreements required by airlines

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Air Canada says these confidentiality clauses are common in settling a dispute. (Archive photo)

The Canadian Press

Voice synthesis, based on artificial intelligence, allows you to generate spoken text from written text.

Major Canadian airlines are asking some of their passengers who want compensation for delays or cancellations to sign non-disclosure agreements if they want to get their money.

Passengers who sue after a long delay or canceled flight are often offered money. This supposed gesture of goodwill, however, has a catch: passengers must sign a confidentiality agreement and drop their lawsuit.

The Canadian Press has contacted more than 20 Canadian airline customers who had to endure this procedure. Some rejected the offer, others accepted it. It appears the highest amount was a thousand dollars.

For example, Colleen Dafoe was scheduled to fly to the Dominican Republic in December 2022 with her husband and daughter to celebrate her 50th birthday, but the flight was canceled by WestJet.

The company offered to leave more than 10 days later, well after the couple's leave dates, she said. Ms. Dafoe instead sued WestJet in small claims court. A company lawyer then offered them a full refund of the tickets on one condition: signing a non-disclosure agreement.

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My husband and I procrastinated. Part of us wanted to stand our ground and refuse this confidentiality clause because airlines shouldn't silence people when they don't follow the rules, says Dafoe.

However, the couple ended up accepting the agreement which prohibits them from revealing the amount they obtained.

WestJet says it does not comment publicly on non-disclosure agreements, regardless of the cause or circumstances.

This case appears to be part of a pattern adopted by the two main Canadian airlines, WetJet and Air Canada, which initially offer vouchers ranging from $150 and $300 to customers who complain. If they refuse the offer and go to court, the companies agree to reimburse them in full or may even offer them more money if a non-disclosure clause is added to the agreement .

Air Canada says these confidentiality clauses are common in resolving a dispute. It says it pays compensation when the customer deserves it.

These clauses are designed to protect the integrity of the negotiation process because each case is different. We cannot compare the regulations with each other.

A quote from Peter Fitzpatrick. Air Canada spokesperson, in an email

Consumer rights advocates reject the idea that a non-disclosure agreement is commonplace.

According to Sylvie De Bellefeuille, budgetary and legal advisor at Option consommateurs, airlines mainly want to suppress unfavorable reactions, both on the Internet and in court.

They don't want to create precedents. They don't want to read on social media that someone signed a $500 deal with Air Canada, she says.

Sometimes settlements are lower than the amounts claimed. Many clients don't know they can refuse a first offer, says John Lawford, executive director of the Public Interest Advocacy Center.

These powerful companies use great means. It’s scandalous, it’s petty, it’s being a bad sport. However, the amounts involved are not high. They want to muzzle critics. Silence is imposed on what could highlight other problems within the airlines.

A quote from John Lawford, Executive Director of the Public Interest Advocacy Center

From a strictly business perspective, Airlines are acting reasonably under current rules, agrees Gabor Lukacs, president of the advocacy group Travelers Rights. He emphasizes that these clauses prevent the proliferation of cases before the courts.

From an economic point of view, they are making the right choice. Airlines are neither good nor bad. They simply opt for the optimal strategies in a game where the dice are loaded against the passengers.

Under the Air Passenger Protection Regulations, airlines are required to provide passengers with either a refund or a rebooking, at the passenger's option, in the event of a flight cancellation or extended delay attributable to a situation beyond the airline's control.

As of December 5, some 61,000 complaints were pending before the Transportation Agency of Canada, which oversees this program. Many passengers prefer to avoid going through this process – which is only implemented after the airline has rejected a complaint – because of the wait, which can reach two years in some cases. cases.

To speed up the process and convince passengers to go through regulatory authorities rather than going to court, the Office has created complaints resolution officer positions. Around fifty people were hired. Their training began in mid-August. The Office plans to hire 50 more people next year.

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