Passenger bill of rights coming Tuesday will set national standard for air travel

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The Trudeau government will introduce legislation for a passenger bill of rights Tuesday in a move that will set a national standard for how airline passengers are treated in Canada, CBC News has learned.

The legislative changes will also prevent airlines from charging parents for the privilege of sitting next to their young children, according to government sources who spoke on condition of anonymity.

The goal of a passenger bill of rights is to make sure travellers know what they are entitled to expect in terms of service or compensation should their travel arrangements be disrupted by events within the airline’s control.

Similar legislation has been in place in the U.S. since 2002 and in Europe since 2005. The federal government hopes to have its passenger protection regime in place by 2018, the sources said.

The measures are part of a larger package of changes Transport Minister Marc Garneau is introducing to modernize Canada’s transportation laws to make them more efficient.

Garneau first set out his plan to revamp his ministry’s legislation at a speech in Montreal in November, in which he said he would introduce a regime to ensure Canadians’ rights are protected by rules that are both fair and clear.

The passenger bill of rights would set a standard across the country that airlines would have to follow.

It remains unclear how passengers would be compensated for poor treatment, or how much they would receive.

Right now, when passengers have a complaint with an airline they can either take it up with the airline themselves or file an official complaint through the Canadian Transportation Agency.

The agency’s website says that it can help resolve complaints about air travel within, to and from Canada, whether the traveller is Canadian or not.

Common complaints include delays, cancellations, missed connections, lost or damaged luggage and getting bumped due to overbooking.

The CTA will not help passengers with customer service issues, loyalty programs, unfair competitive practices, issues with travel agents or security, safety or noise issues.

Complaints process

Once a complaint has been filed, the CTA gives the airline 30 days to respond. If the dispute has not been resolved the agency will try to reach a resolution through mediation or a quasi-legal process called adjudication.

“The legislation must provide a clear set of standards for the airlines to follow, so that Canadians can easily understand their rights and how to claim them,” Jeff Walker, vice-president of public affairs at the Canadian Automobile Association, said in a statement Monday.

The CAA has been advocating for a passenger bill of rights for some time. It says that leaving Canadians to battle it out with airlines or being subject to the “needlessly complex complaint process through the Canadian Transportation Agency” is unfair.

NDP MP Brian Masse said he expects passenger protections to have teeth.

“It’s about time, though, that right now that we have consumers, when we fix this, so they get reimbursement when necessary or compensation,” he said. “And [that the bill of rights] looks at doing so in a fair, equitable way and [is] returned rather quickly, rather than waiting months on end to go through … a court process.”

Also expected will be changes allowing foreign ownership of Canadian airlines to increase from 24 per cent to 49 per cent.

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Passenger bill of rights coming Tuesday will set national standard for air travel

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