The backlog of air passenger complaints to Canada’s transportation regulator has reached a new high, surpassing 57,000, as dissatisfaction over cancellations and compensation persists three and a half years after the outbreak of the COVID-19 pandemic.
The figures reveal that an average of more than 3,000 complaints per month were accumulated at the Canadian Transportation Agency (CTA) last year, and the current figure more than triples the September 2022 total.
Vancouver residents Chad Kerychuk and Melissa Oei say they are considering filing a complaint after they arrived in Halifax six hours later than planned on a flight from their hometown in August 2021 and found themselves separated on board despite from purchasing more expensive tickets to selecting venues next to each other. in advance.
The couple said WestJet rejected their request for a partial refund.
“More than a year has passed since your departure date and the claim period has expired. As such, your claim cannot be approved,” WestJet told them in an email.
Kerychuk said the response “seems like the wrong way to treat loyal customers” after years of choosing that airline over its competitors.
“There was no effort made to support us, because we supported them during the pandemic. And I thought that was completely unfair,” he said in a phone interview.
WestJet notified its customers that the outage was caused by “unplanned maintenance,” an exclusion from compensation rules that the federal government says will soon be unavailable to carriers.
In June, the government passed legislation to reform Canada’s passenger bill of rights, establishing measures to toughen penalties and close loopholes around traveler compensation, as well as streamlining the complaints process.
“There will be no more loopholes where airlines can claim that a disruption is caused by something outside their control for safety reasons when it is not,” Omar Alghabra, then transport minister, told reporters in April.
The Canadian Press has contacted the transportation agency and WestJet for comment.
While most of the reforms are not scheduled to take effect until September 30, the president of the air passenger rights group, Gábor Lukács, says the agency could immediately take steps to increase the maximum fine for airline violations and initiate consultations on who bears the administrative cost of complaints. .
Their growing numbers do not surprise him.
“Those rising numbers show the government’s failure to design regulations that are actually practically enforceable and provide meaningful protection to passengers,” Lukács said.
He pointed to the Air Passenger Protection Regulation, also known as the passenger bill of rights, which the government introduced in 2019, a legal milestone for Canadian travelers, but which fell short of its promise due to loopholes and lack of simplicity, Lukács. saying.
“The government adopted a regime that is so complicated, so complex… that it takes excessive resources to actually verify eligibility (for compensation),” he said.
He also decried a “dismal record” of law enforcement.
“The few fines that are being issued are for low-hanging fruit…and the CTA hasn’t really laid the groundwork for imposing higher fines.”
Amendments to the passenger bill of rights allow the regulator to increase the maximum penalty for airline violations to $250,000 (a tenfold increase) and put the regulatory cost of complaints on carriers. In theory, this measure gives airlines an incentive to improve their service and thus reduce the number of complaints against them.
Since April 1, 2022, WestJet has received nine CTA fines worth $280,580 for various violations, according to data on the quasi-judicial body’s website.
Of that amount, nearly $124,000 is due to failure to “provide the prescribed compensation requested by the passenger, or an explanation as to why compensation should not be paid, within 30 days of the day the request was received,” they say. infringement notices.
The agency has imposed six fines on Air Canada (only one directly related to compensation) totaling $82,650 since April 1, 2022. Its revenue in the 15 months after that date amounted to $24.3 billion.