Opening Statement, Ms. Liette Lacroix Kenniff, Air Travel Complaints Commissioner
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Ms. Liette Lacroix Kenniff
Air Travel Complaints Commissioner
National Press Theatre
June 5, 2003
(check against delivery)
Good morning. I am Liette Lacroix Kenniff, Canada's Air Travel Complaints Commissioner. Sitting with me on the podium is Dave Western, Director, tariffs, complaints and enforcement, who is responsible for the complaints department.
Thank you for attending this news conference on the release of my latest report covering the period from July to December 2002. I will be making a brief opening statement in both English and French, after which I will be happy to answer your questions in either official language.
In the period covered by this report, the last six months of 2002, airlines were faced with declining revenues and rising costs, and they were increasingly less willing to offer settlements that passengers considered acceptable. As evidenced in this report, air travel complaints submitted by Canadians to my Office are becoming more complex and increasingly difficult to negotiate.
While it is true that some airlines go above and beyond to regain their customers' loyalty when they appear to have lost it, others seem bent on frustrating them even more. On this last topic, my report is sprinkled with concrete examples of things gone wrong, including horror stories with titles like "Overnighting in a small Texas airport", "How good is your ticket?" and "A very bad day".
From July 1 to December 31, 2002, the Office of the Air Travel Complaints Commissioner received 731 complaints involving 1,087 separate issues. In sheer numbers, complaints to my Office have decreased somewhat since their peak in 2000 and 2001. But at a time when some air carriers are fighting for their very survival, dire financial straits and fierce protection of the bottom line have translated into increased customer dissatisfaction with the solutions being offered.
I am tasked by Parliament to respond to, and attempt to resolve, complaints from the air travelling public. My Office provides a place to which Canadians can turn with their concerns about the service they receive from carriers flying to, from or within our country. It is also my duty to identify the underlying issues which cause these complaints.
Over this most recent reporting period, I identified several systemic problems which form the basis of my latest recommendations. There are four recommendations on which I believe air carriers should take immediate action. The first three are:
- Airlines should improve the way they deal with and compensate passengers when flights are delayed;
- Air carriers should improve their policies concerning lost, delayed, pilfered and damaged publication/baggage to ensure that passengers are aware of the limits of liability before they surrender their property, and are compensated promptly and equitably when delays, damage or losses occur; and
- Airlines should make sure they have policies in place to take care of young passengers between the ages of 12 and 18 travelling alone.
The fourth recommendation pertains to the undisputed acceptance of tickets issued by authorized representatives. This issue is perhaps best illustrated by the Travel Way incident in which I had to intervene late last year. In this case, some airlines refused to transport customers who presented tickets purchased from an authorized and accredited travel agent who had allegedly withheld payment to the airlines. I find it distressing that people who have purchased tickets in good faith from an accredited agency may be penalized for the failure of a travel agency to fulfill its contractual obligations with the airlines.
My report includes a new section called "Roses and Thorns" which recognizes, on the one hand, the good business practices of an airline in one particular incident, and on the other, points out another carrier where the level of customer service fell far below an acceptable level in a variety of incidents.
Looking at complaints in more detail, there is both good news and bad news in this report. On the positive side, I have seen a marked decrease in Aeroplan complaints. On the other hand, ticketing problems, due mostly to the complexity of fare structures, are on the rise. Consumers often misunderstand complicated and obscure rules pertaining to their tickets and are frustrated when they discover the true price of their trip is much more than anticipated, once all the fees and charges are added on. Ticketing issues are on the increase and now constitute the second most frequent reason to complain.
I made a recommendation on the ticketing issue in my last report and it is encouraging to see that the Minister of Transport has made provisions in Bill C-26 currently before Parliament to deal with the issue of ticket prices. I am also pleased to see that Air Canada, for one, has recently introduced what appears to be a much simplified fare structure.
These and other developments clearly demonstrate that my Office has achieved positive results for Canadian air travellers. Since the creation of this position in July of 2000, the majority of complainants who appealed to the Commissioner to intercede on their behalf were satisfied with the results we obtained for them.
I believe that treating customers well is an excellent way to regain consumer confidence. In the current context, air carriers should take advantage of opportunities to offer tangible goodwill gestures and reduce irritants for air travellers. Air travel is not only about transportation. It is also about good service.
Even in this critical period for airlines, consumers have the right to expect that their flights will leave on time, that their seats will be in good working order, and that their publication/baggage will be delivered in a timely manner and in the same condition as it was when they checked it in with the airline.
I will now be happy to respond to your questions in either official language.