The number of air travel complaints in Canada has tripled in one year

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The number of air travel complaints in Canada has tripled in one year

Valérian Mazataud Archives Le Devoir The backlog of complaints increased after the chaos of the summer and again during the last holiday season. Pictured: Passengers at Montreal-Trudeau Airport, December 24, 2020.

The number of complaints filed by air passengers with Canada's transportation regulator has more than tripled over the past past year, now surpassing the 42,000 mark.

Each case now risks taking more than a year and a half to be processed, prompting travel advocacy groups and politicians to question the effectiveness of the process despite the increased resources allocated to it .

Complaint counts rose on the heels of last summer's chaos — and again during the holiday break, when demand spiked and bad weather disrupted show schedules. flights.

Complaints numbered around 13,400 as of March 31, 2022, before soaring to all-time highs, according to reports from the Canadian Transportation Agency (CTA). There were 36,000 at the end of January, and the number has grown another 17% since then.

This growth comes despite additional funding recently provided to the CTO. The agency currently has 343 employees, up from 298 a year ago.

The CTO president says handling complaints remains her primary focus, but critics say the backlog in the handling of complaints is mostly due to shortcomings in the air passengers' bill of rights and agency inaction.

Bill introduced

New Democratic Party (NDP) Transportation Critic Taylor Bachrach introduced a bill on Monday aimed at closing loopholes, increasing fines and making compensation automatic for travelers whose flights are delayed or cancelled.

The Air Passenger Protection Regulations, which came into force in 2019, allow airlines to reject compensation claims citing safety-related reasons. The bill would end this exception.

Meanwhile, travel advocacy groups say the lack of fines demonstrates the agency's disregard for law enforcement. The total value of penalties imposed on airlines and airports reached $645,630 in the past 12 months, compared to $253,975 in 2021-22 and $54,500 in 2020-21. Figures that represent a tiny fraction of airline sales — less than 0.04% of Air Canada's $16.56 billion revenue last year, for example.

Bachrach is calling for tougher penalties and tougher law enforcement. “The fines provided for in the current legislation are insufficient to have a deterrent effect. As long as the cost of following the rules outweighs the cost of breaking them, we will see airlines operating outside the rules in the normal course of business,” he said in a phone interview from Prince. Rupert, British Columbia.

CTO President France Pégeot told the transport committee in January that clearer and stricter rules could lead to better enforcement. She said, however, that the agency's role as a quasi-judicial tribunal is its priority, and that its mandate to penalize violations comes second.

“The first thing we do is we're really focused on complaints first because that's what puts money in consumers' pockets,” Ms. Pégeot told the committee on January 12.

Both Mr. Bachrach and John Lawford, who heads the Public Interest Advocacy Center, say the passenger rights overhaul promised by the federal government this spring must also make compensation automatic in the event of significant delays or short-notice cancellations.

“We need a very committed regulator that imposes a clear set of tough rules and a regime that is easy for consumers to understand, almost automatic,” said argued Mr. Lawford in a telephone interview.

Sylvie De Bellefeuille, a lawyer for Option consommateurs, agrees with another aspect of Mr. Bachrach's bill: the transfer to carriers of the burden of proof in the event of flight disruptions. They would then have to provide information showing that compensation is not required. Currently, it is travelers who must request this information from companies – which Ms. De Bellefeuille considers “illogical”.

Reinforcements to come

Last week, federal Transportation Minister Omar Alghabra pledged $75.9 million over three years to reduce the CTA's backlog of complaints by hiring 200 additional staff. He also pledged to close the loophole that the NDP bill targets, among other things. told The Canadian Press in August that it was trying to hire more officers to help resolve customer complaints, but worker retention remained an issue.

“The CTA has already reviewed its current complaints resolution process to identify and make improvements to the process to ensure it makes the best use of the resources provided to it by the government, the agency said in an email last week. For example, we have already been able to streamline the receipt of complaints and reduce incomplete and inaccurate requests from 50% of all requests received to 10%, resulting in less administrative back-and-forth and shorter wait times for complainants. »