Moving towards modern and effective air passenger protection
by Scott Streiner, Chair and CEO, Canadian Transportation Agency
Air travel is integral to modern life. Usually, it is uneventful, but when something goes wrong, the experience can be disruptive and frustrating – in no small part because as individual passengers, we often have little control over events and little knowledge of our rights.
The Transportation Modernization Act (Bill C-49) that is currently being debated in Parliament aims to address some of these issues by mandating the Canadian Transportation Agency (CTA) to make new regulations defining airlines' minimum obligations when flights are delayed or cancelled, passengers are denied boarding (bumped), baggage is lost or damaged, tarmac delays over three hours occur, children under the age of 14 are travelling with a parent or guardian, or passengers are transporting musical instruments.
In developing and implementing these regulations, we will build on our experience as Canada’s longest-standing independent, expert tribunal and regulator. We've been around since 1904, and have delivered aviation-related responsibilities since 1944. These responsibilities include licensing air carriers, issuing charter permits, and assessing whether proposed foreign investments affect the control-in-fact of Canadian airlines by Canadians.
Our air passenger protection mandate is of much more recent origin, dating back to 2000. But it has quickly become one of our most important lines of business. Just a few years ago, we received about 70 air travel complaints a month. Over the past year, that number has jumped to about 450 complaints per month, largely because of increased public attention to air travel issues and growing awareness of the availability of recourse through the CTA. The vast majority of these complaints are resolved through an informal, ombudsman-like facilitation process or slightly-more-formal mediation, but a small proportion end up in adjudication, where the CTA exercises the powers of a superior court and issues binding decisions.
Under the current law, each airline must establish a tariff, which is the legal document outlining its terms and conditions of carriage. The CTA's role is to ensure that airlines properly apply their tariffs and that tariff terms are reasonable.
The Air Passenger Protection Regulations we will make, if and when Bill C-49 is passed, will take us beyond a model based solely on individual airline tariffs. We are committed to ensuring that air passenger rights are:
- Transparent – proactively communicated to passengers and easy for them to find.
- Clear – written in straightforward, non-legalistic language.
- Fair – providing reasonable compensation and/or other measures if something goes wrong with a flight.
- Consistent – ensuring comparable treatment for travellers facing similar circumstances.
We know that issues related to air travel are of great interest to Canadians. We also know that they want to see the new rules put into place without unnecessary delay.
To give Canadians a chance to have their say while ensuring that we move forward as quickly as possible, we will launch focused, intensive public consultations on Air Passenger Protection Regulations immediately after Bill C-49 receives Royal Assent, assuming it passes both houses of Parliament. The travelling public, airline industry, consumer rights groups, and other interested Canadians will be able to complete an online survey, provide written submissions, or attend one of eight public consultation meetings across the country.
These consultations will last two to three months. The input collected through them will support the development of balanced regulations that give air passengers greater clarity on what their rights are, and what recourse is available if they don't believe those rights are being respected.
A modern, effective air passenger protection regime is in the interest of travellers and airlines alike.
I encourage Canadians to participate in the upcoming consultations. Information on them and, more generally, the CTA's mandates and services can be found on our website: cta.gc.ca.