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.
Back in 2017, we cautioned that the government’s proposal would not adequately protect Canadian passengers and falls short of the rights provided by the European Union’s regime.
We thank you for the privilege of testifying before you again, and assisting you in taking stock of the Air Passenger Protection Regulations, known as the APPR, and its many shortcomings.
Mr. Darrel Pink, a small claims court adjudicator, held that: “When consumer protection is the intended outcome of a regulatory regime, it should be assumed the regime will be in plain language, easy to understand and supports a simple claims process. The APPR, which was intended to accomplish enhanced passenger rights, accomplishes none of these.”
Mr. Pink was correct. Let’s look at some examples.
Denied Boarding Compensation
Mia and Joel paid good money for their tickets on an Air Canada flight to Vancouver. Yet, when they presented themselves for check-in, they were denied boarding.
The airline’s agent mistakenly believed that Mia and Joel did not meet some travel requirements. As a matter of fact, they were both eligible to travel.
Common sense dictates that they should have received denied boarding compensation.
Indeed, in the European Union or with an EU carrier, Mia and Joel would have received denied boarding compensation.
In Canada, however, they got nothing, because the APPR provides for compensation only to passengers denied boarding due to overbooking and not for any other reasons.
Mia and Joel’s experience highlights that the APPR’s terminology does not reflect common sense.
We recommend that Canada adopt the EU’s common-sense definitions for “denied boarding” and “cancellation.”
Alex booked a round-trip ticket for a weekend getaway, leaving from Canada to Boston on Friday afternoon, and returning from Boston on Sunday afternoon.
On Friday, Alex’s flight to Boston was cancelled due to a snow storm, which is clearly outside the airline’s control.
The airline offered to rebook Alex on a flight departing Canada on Sunday morning, rendering his travel devoid of any purpose.
By the time Alex would arrive in Boston, they would have to check-in for their return flight. Alex works five days a week, and cannot defer the return flight until Tuesday.
Had Alex’s cancelled flight been departing from Boston or Paris, Alex would have had no difficulty obtaining a full refund under the US or the EU rules.
But Canada’s APPR, as amended this past September, offers Alex no protection. Why? Because the airline offered a flight departing within 48 hours of Alex’s original departure time.
We recommend that Canada harmonize its flight refund rules with the United States and the European Union.
Compensation for Flight Delay and Cancellation
Lisa and Owen were booked on Air Canada and WestJet, respectively. They had the all too common experience of their flights being cancelled due to crew shortage.
The airlines sold them and many others tickets without first ascertaining the availability of crew for operating the flights.
When the airlines refused to compensate them under the APPR, the CTA ordered the airlines to pay. But the airlines then took Lisa and Owen to the Federal Court of Appeal.
The airlines say that:
- it is not the airline but the passenger who has to prove facts relating to the flight cancellation’s circumstances; and
- cancelling flights for crew shortage is for “safety purposes” and no compensation is owed under the APPR.
In the European Union, passengers do not have to defend against such absurdities. The EU regime is clear that it is the airline that has to prove extraordinary circumstances to avoid liability, and that “safety purposes” is not a universal excuse.
We recommend that Canada adopt the EU’s clear language on burden of proof and remove the frequently abused “safety purposes” excuse for not compensating passengers.
We implore you, the lawmakers, to grant Canadians the same rights and protections that European passengers have been enjoying for more than 15 years.