Air Transat's $295,000 fine is a sham

November 30, 2017

Zero dollars. That is how big of a fine Air Transat will have to pay for stranding 590 passengers on the tarmac at the Ottawa Airport for hours, without access to water, food, or fresh air.

In August 2017, after days of media coverage and public outcry, the Canadian Transportation Agency [Agency], which is supposed to regulate airlines and enforce the law, launched an inquiry into the incident.

Today, the Agency released its ruling, telling the public that Air Transat must pay $295,000 penalty for delay of flights 157 and 507. Except that in reality, Air Transat will not have to pay a cent. The fine print, hidden in the cover letter to the Notice of Violation, states that:

A credit up to the amount of the penalty will be applied and accepted as payment in lieu upon provision of evidence, to the satisfaction of the Chief Compliance Officer, of the amount of compensation provided to passengers on the affected flights, excluding the refund of out of pocket expenses.

In plain English, Air Transat can avoid paying the fine by giving a meager $500 compensation to each affected passenger, most of which it already paid out in August 2017, and the rest of which it will soon pay. (The legality of this arrangement is questionable, and our request for clarification has yet to be answered by the Agency.)

Requiring Air Transat to reimburse passengers for out of pocket expenses they could not have possibly incurred while being confined to the aircraft adds insult to injury.

While the Agency's media relations efforts to portray itself as the protector of the travelling public have been successful to some extent, the inquiry remains, as we predicted, a publicity stunt. Tonight, Canadian airline executives can sleep well knowing that although the Agency has added some smoke and mirrors, it will shy away from imposing real financial consequences even in the most egregious cases.