Air Passenger Protection Reform: Address to the House of Commons Transport Committee
Speaking notes of Dr. Gábor Lukács

House of Commons January 26, 2023

Mr. Chair, Honourable Members,

Air Passenger Rights is Canada’s independent nonprofit organization of volunteers, devoted to empowering travellers.

We take no government or business funding, and we have no business interest in the travel industry.

We speak for passengers whom we help daily in their struggle to enforce their rights.

In our December 19, 2022 submissions to the Committee, we cautioned that the air passenger protection regime is broken, and we proposed specific legislative amendments as a solution.

Mere days later, during the holiday season, Canadians witnessed a second meltdown of air travel in 2022, compounded by airlines' flagrant disregard of passengers' rights under the APPR.

During inclement weather, airlines left hundreds of passengers confined to aircraft on the tarmac without proper food and water for up to 10-12 hours, contrary to sections 8 and 9 of the APPR.

Earlier this month, you heard testimony that airlines did not ask the airport for help with getting food and water to passengers on the tarmac, even though the airport had available resources.

Once the inclement weather passed, airlines still failed to rebook passengers in a timely manner, contrary section 18 of the APPR.

WestJet refused to rebook passengers on available Air Canada flights, even when no WestJet flights were available for days.

Air Canada was selling “next available” flights on its website at a premium, and rebooked stranded passengers days later.

Sunwing left passengers stranded abroad for days, and thenblamed the government for Sunwing’s own irresponsible decision to sell flights without having enough pilots.

We recently learned that Air Canada has been “donating” passengers’ missing bags to a charity instead of returning them to their rightful owners.

You have also heard that the CTA’s backlog has risen to 33,000 complaints following the holiday season, with an 18-month or longer wait time.

It is now clear to everyone that the status quo is untenable.

We propose to eliminate two points of failure of the current regime: lack of enforcement and unnecessary complexity.

Airlines have a single objective: maximizing their profits.

The only reason airlines violate passengers’ rights is because the costs of compliance exceed the costs of flouting the law.

While the Canada Transportation Act permits the CTA to fine airlines up to $25,000 per violation, per passenger, per incident, that power has largely fallen into disuse.

You heard testimony that the CTA has never fined an airline for failing to pay compensation owed under the APPR.

So, from an airline’s perspective, the worst consequence of failing to obey the APPR is occasionally being ordered to pay what the passenger was owed anyway.

This must change. Without hefty fines for violations, there is no incentive for airlines to comply with the APPR.

For example, if the odds of an airline being caught not paying a $400 compensation is 1 out of 100 (1%), then any fine of less than $40,000 per violation is ineffective, making it cheaper for the airline to pay the fine than to systematically comply.

Fines alone, however, will not get rid of the CTA’s backlog.

The APPR not only creates an undue hurdle for passengers seeking compensation, but also requires a complex evidentiary record whose consideration consumes disproportionately large resources compared to the amounts at stake.

This unnecessary complexity is also partly responsible for the CTA’s backlog, which has ballooned in spite of the additional resources that were allocated to the CTA in the 2022 budget.

A regime that requires over 1,000 pages of documents and a full day trial to determine the fate of $400 is doomed to fail.

In comparison, under the European Union’s regime, a passenger’s eligibility to compensation can be decided with limited publicly available information and minimal documentary evidence in most cases.

In Canada, Parliament’s intervention is warranted.

We implore you, the lawmakers, to amend the Canada Transportation Act by both enhancing enforcement and harmonizing the framework with the European Union’s air passenger protection regime.

Doing only one of the two will not make the problem go away.

Thank you.