I call this meeting to order.
Welcome to meeting number 40 of the Standing Committee on Transport, Infrastructure and Communities.
Pursuant to Standing Order 108(2) and the motion adopted by the committee on Thursday, February 3, 2022, the committee is meeting to study air passenger protection regulations.
Today's meeting is taking place in a hybrid format, pursuant to the House order of November 25, 2021. Members are attending in person in the room and remotely using the Zoom application.
Members of the committee, appearing before us today we have, as an individual, Mr. John Gradek, faculty lecturer and academic programs coordinator of the School of Continuing Studies at McGill University. He is appearing by video conference. From Air Passenger Rights, we have Mr. Gábor Lukács, president.
We also have with us Mr. Jacob Charbonneau, president and chief executive officer of Late Flight Claim Canada Inc., as well as Ms. Sylvie De Bellefeuille, lawyer, budget and legal advisor at Option consommateurs.
Finally, from the Public Interest Advocacy Centre, we have Mr. John Lawford, executive director and general counsel.
I'd like to take this opportunity to inform members that all of today's video conference witness participants have completed the necessary audiovisual checks. I'm going to look over to our interpreters right now to get a big thumbs-up and make sure everything's good. Perfect.
We will now begin the opening remarks with Mr. John Gradek for five minutes.
Sir, the floor is yours.
I'd just like to thank the members of the House committee for having invited me to speak to you today on the air passenger protection regulations.
Today I would like to address the issue of compensation, primarily to air travellers as a result of an airline's decision to disrupt a passenger's itinerary, and to provide you with my recommendations to address what I see as current shortcomings within those regulations. First, let me quickly walk through the history of that regime to make sure that we have the right context. I will then talk about my recommendations.
In May 2019, we had the introduction of the air passenger protection regulations, which stipulated certain minimum airline requirements for air travel, including things like standard treatment and, in some situations, compensation for passengers. These regulations were the result of extensive consultation with stakeholders in the commercial air travel industry, including airlines and consumer groups. These new regulations set out obligations to passengers for communication, delayed or cancelled flights, denied boarding, tarmac delays and transportation of musical instruments, among others.
These regulations were instituted by the Canadian Transportation Agency under the Canada Transportation Act, as amended by the Transportation Modernization Act. They were to be administered by the Canadian Transportation Agency and came into effect progressively through December 15, 2019. These regulations apply to all flights to, from and within Canada, including connection flights.
Some of the more contentious provisions in these regulations have been those concerning delayed or cancelled flights. My comments and observations today will focus on what I see as a definition of airline control and the interpretations that various stakeholders have taken of the airline control statement.
When you talk about the way in which the APPR has basically delineated scenarios, one provision in there seems to be causing the most grief. It is the things that are in an airline's control but are “required for safety purposes”. Based on that provision and those scenarios, passengers are exempt from compensation. It appears that disruptions with this characteristic have raised the ire of many travellers and consumer groups, which claim that airlines have been misusing this characterization to escape the compensation requirements of disruptions within an airline's control.
When we talk about some of those situations where airlines are claiming safety, we're talking about situations regarding maintenance and staffing. When we have those situations, the airlines are only obligated to provide a standard level of treatment, a completion of the passenger's itinerary and no compensation. The compensation, of course, varies depending on the type and length of delay, ranging anywhere from $400 for a three-hour delay to up to $1,000 for a delay of over nine hours.
I made some simplifying assumptions in how these conditions and regulations came into place. I'm pretty sure that a significant amount of consultation was going on with the airlines specifically and with consumer groups. I'm pretty sure there was agreement among all of these stakeholders that the regulations were, in fact, fair and could be applied readily. However, it has become very apparent that there are, overwhelmingly, situations now where airlines are looking at what's within airline control and required for safety as being a primary cause for not paying compensation.
Typically, in terms of the airlines designing their flight schedules, the resources required to fly that schedule—be they physical, human or financial—are deployed from established inventory and reflect the need to have the required resources at the moment the flight is scheduled to operate. Airline staffers recognize that absences and shortages are a matter of course. Things like vacations, leaves of absence, retirements and sicknesses are all part of the way staff are deployed. Planners already take into account the fact that these absences will be there by looking at creating reserves. Reserves are typically there for flight attendants and pilots. These reserves are deployed at the instant staffing shortages are apparent, even within a day of flight.
The number of airline employees that the airline says are reserve staff is very much at the airline's discretion. If the reserves are low and absences are high, flights are delayed and flights are cancelled. Welcome to 2022. Absences can be forecasted based on historical absences, and reserve levels did not reflect the realities of the 2022 absences.
While the CTA expressed the opinion that staffing levels are not grounds for delays that fall outside of the airlines' control, airlines continue to make such claims and have, in fact, gone to federal court. Both Air Canada and WestJet have gone to Federal Court looking for further exemptions from these regulations based on scenarios that they say are part of the Montreal Convention. These regulations are flying in the face of the ICAO Montreal Convention.
This leads me to submit that we need to overhaul these exemptions and that the rules by which airlines can deny compensation need to be addressed quickly. We have some models. We don't have to reinvent things from scratch.
My belief is that the European Union's regulations on compensation are probably in better condition than the Canadian ones. The outline of the rules in the European Union—
Mr. Chair and honourable members, Air Passenger Rights is Canada's independent, non-profit organization of volunteers devoted to empowering travellers. We take no government or business funding, and we have no business interests 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 fell 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 APPR, and their many shortcomings.
Mr. Darrel Pink, a small claims court adjudicator, held, “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.
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 go to Boston on Friday afternoon and returning from Boston on Sunday afternoon. On Friday, Alex's flight to Boston was cancelled due to a snowstorm, which was clearly outside the carrier's control. The airline offered to re-book 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, as many Canadians do, and could not 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 U.S. or EU rules. However, Canada's APPR, as amended this past September, offers Alex no protection. Why? It's 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 those of the United States and the European Union.
Now let's look at Lisa and Owen, who 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. The airlines then took Lisa and Owen to the Federal Court of Appeal.
The airlines say before the courts that, first, it is not the airline but the passenger who has to prove facts relating to the flight cancellation's circumstances, and second, that cancelling flights for crew shortage is for “safety purposes”, and no compensation is owed to the passengers 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.
I thank the committee for inviting me to appear.
I am the co‑founder and CEO of Late Flight Claim Canada Inc., a law firm dedicated to helping consumers obtain compensation following a problem with their airline.
I have been asked to speak today about improvements to the air passenger protection regulations. I will come back to that later.
I would like to start by saying that we need to look at the situation much more broadly: it is the whole system that is broken and flawed. This makes it almost impossible for travellers to access justice and compensation, and let me tell you why.
Firstly, far too much room is left for interpretation of the causes giving rise to claims. Compliance with the regulation is left to the goodwill of the carriers. You can have the best regulation; if it is not followed, it is useless. Unfortunately, the actions of carriers since the regulations were put in place have shown us that the system does not work.
The system in place makes it financially more advantageous for carriers not to facilitate access to compensation and to refuse applications on all sorts of grounds. It is important to note that this behaviour is not limited to Canada, but is widespread throughout the industry. For example, the U.S. Department of Transportation recently fined airlines more than $7.25 million for delays in refunding nearly $600 million to passengers.
The processes in place in Canada encourage this bad behaviour and are inadequate. The regulations and their three categories of causes of flight delay or cancellation leave far too much room for interpretation. These categories are causes attributable to the carrier, causes attributable to the carrier but necessary for safety, and causes not attributable to the carrier.
All too often, carriers put anything and everything into these categories, without giving details. For example, pilots had miscalculated the fuel requirement, resulting in a demand for additional fuel, causing a delay. This was put in the category of causes attributable to the carrier, but necessary for safety reasons. We all agree that the delay was necessary, but it was still an operational decision.
There are also the problems relating to crew shortages, which have affected a huge number of passengers this summer. Yet these types of problems are clearly described in the Canadian Transportation Agency's interpretation policy as being a situation attributable to the carrier. Yet these situations have been put in the category of carrier-caused, but necessary for safety reasons.
In addition, in their tariff, carriers require passengers not to submit their claims through specialized firms and not to be represented by legal counsel in their initial claim. As an example, Air Canada tariff rule 105, paragraph F(2) states that the “carrier will not process claims submitted by a third party if the passenger concerned has not submitted the claim directly to the carrier [...]”.
This misinformation, coupled with the carriers' practices, has the effect of prejudicing passengers' rights and treating passengers unequally. Indeed, an article appeared on the CP24 website on the weekend about a couple of WestJet passengers, one of whom received compensation while the other did not, despite both being on the same flight.
Carriers know very well that in general, passengers are not sufficiently aware of their rights and the carrier's obligations. They are unable to stand up to multinationals that have access to specialized lawyers. Most passengers will not go any further after an initial refusal by the carrier. Passengers' rights are therefore undermined. When a passenger decides to appeal a carrier's decision, the Canadian Transportation Agency will often take more than a year, or even two years, to process their application.
This agency is not efficient. It offers three services or avenues: facilitation, mediation and formal proceedings.
Passengers are automatically directed to facilitation, at which there is little or no validation of facts and the carrier's comments are simply repeated. Compensation is left to the discretion of the carrier, and there is no obligation to provide evidence. The mediation process does not require evidence either.
Finally, there is the formal procedure, which takes over a year. One has to invest more or less 10 hours in it, in addition to the time spent on analyzing the responses. Moreover, the judgment will only apply to the passenger concerned. The carrier will therefore not be obliged to contact all passengers in the same situation, for example in the case of a delay due to lack of crew.
Let us take an example of good practice instead. In Denmark, applications are simplified. Supporting documents are requested, the facts are validated and the decision is enforceable within six months. The first instance that deals with the applications has much more power.
In summary, in Canada, passengers are told just about anything and are forced to represent themselves. The challenge rate is low and it takes one to two years to be told pretty much the same thing by the Canadian Transportation Agency without any obligation to validate the facts. All this has the effect of encouraging bad practices by carriers to the detriment of the travelling public.
We therefore ask the government to review the procedures in place, the role of the agency and the powers granted to first responders. Secondly, we are asking it to look at the time taken by the agency to deal with travellers' complaints. We also want the government to require carriers to remove any provision in their tariffs that requires passengers to represent themselves in the event of a dispute. What's more, we want it to harmonize the different categories of cases with European regulations: either the situation entitles passengers to compensation, or it is an extraordinary circumstance that the carrier must prove.
On the other hand, we ask that technical and mechanical failures be included in the situations attributable to carriers. In addition, carriers must be required to provide physical evidence in the event of denial and require reasons beyond overbooking for denied boarding, such as an error in the person's name or a problem with the carrier's registration. Finally, compensation to passengers following an initial denial should be enhanced to include punitive damages.
Good afternoon, members of the committee. Thank you for receiving me and allowing me to present my comments.
I have been a lawyer with Option consommateurs for 12 years. Our organization was created in 1983, and its mission is to help consumers defend their rights. As such, we receive thousands of requests for information each year from people who have problems with merchants, including the travel industry.
Since the start of the pandemic, the problems experienced by air passengers have highlighted the flaws in the regulations designed to protect them. Indeed, it is for this reason that the Air Passenger Protection Regulations have recently been amended to clarify passengers' rights to reimbursement, even if the cancellation or disruption of a flight is beyond the control of the carrier.
However, the chaos at Canadian airports, particularly in Montreal—which has made Canada the laughing stock of other countries—has proven two things to us. First, customer satisfaction is not a priority for airlines. Second, current regulations do not provide adequate protection for consumers.
In our view, the high number of complaints received by the Canadian Transportation Agency is only the tip of the iceberg and demonstrates that the current regulations present enforcement difficulties. We would therefore like to share with you some proposals to improve the regulations.
In the event of a flight delay or cancellation, the level of liability a carrier must assume depends on its level of control over the situation. While this makes sense in theory, it is problematic in practice. This is because the onus is still on the passengers to seek justice by seeking compensation from the carrier.
Yet, in order to do so, passengers are entirely dependent on the information provided to them by the carrier. The problem is that the carrier has a conflict of interest. When the reason for the disruption is within its control, it has an obligation to compensate passengers. Since it is expensive, it has an interest in not recognizing this. This was also the case during the air traffic disruptions that occurred this summer. Indeed, several carriers claimed that the pandemic was the cause of the problems in order to avoid paying compensation. In short, the pandemic had a very broad back, again.
Before the Canadian Transportation Agency, the passenger has the burden of proving that the regulations were not properly applied by the air carrier. This is nonsense and, in our view, the burden should be on the carrier. We also believe that compensation should be automatic, as is currently the case for overbooking cases.
In cases where a flight is cancelled for a reason outside the carrier's control, its primary obligation is to reroute the passenger and it has 48 hours to do so. Only if the carrier fails to do so can the passenger request a refund. However, this time limit is too long. In some situations, this delay negates the purpose of the trip, as in the case of a person who has to go on a cruise and whose flight cancellation means that he or she literally misses the boat. In such situations, passengers should be allowed to be refunded.
The final issue we would like to bring to the attention of the committee is overbooking. In our view, overbooking is certainly a breach of contract law. Normally, when one buys a good or a service, the supplier has the obligation to provide that good or service according to the agreed terms. In this case, the carrier has an obligation to take the person from one place to another.
The problem with overbooking is that it allows a carrier to withhold the agreed service from some passengers on the pretext of offering better terms to other passengers who have paid more for their tickets, thereby allowing it to increase its profits. In our view, the right to make a profit should not have the effect of relegating consumer rights to second place. For all these reasons, we believe that overbooking should simply be banned.
Thank you very much, Mr. Chair and honourable members.
My name is John Lawford. I'm the executive director and general counsel at the Public Interest Advocacy Centre. PIAC is a national non-profit and registered charity, and we provide legal and research services on behalf of consumer interests, in particular vulnerable consumer interests, concerning the provision of important public services. PIAC has been active in the field of air passenger protection and policy for over 20 years.
The air passenger protection regulations are just fine. Removing them or amending them would not ease airport delays or reduce traveller frustration. They are not unfair and they are not overreach vis-à-vis the airlines. The APPRs are hard-won redress and fairness for the flying public. Modern air transportation regulatory schemes throughout the world have such rules, including, as we've heard, the EU and the U.K. The APPRs are Canada's answer.
There is currently a problem with the backlog of consumer APPR complaints at the Canadian Transportation Agency. We estimate there are somewhere between 16,000 and 20,000 that are at least a year old. This backlog is due in part to bad timing. The APPRs were proclaimed, as you heard, in force just ahead of COVID-19.
However, it has always been PIAC's position that the APPRs were going to generate a backlog. The CTA's facilitation, mediation and adjudication streams within a quasi-judicial formal framework are a ridiculous approach to dealing with high-volume, low-value consumer redress for such routine, and unfortunately now chronic, issues as flight delays and cancellations.
A better model is a dedicated administrative complaints agency with a regulatory overseer for systemic issues. This administrative model is currently in place for telecommunications and broadcasting, through the CCTS, and for banking and investments, through the OBSI. The government should not abandon the APPRs but should remove them from the formalistic tariff-based adjudication process and transition to a CCTS-like model.
We also note that consumer baggage complaints cannot be solved by changing or improving the APPRs, because they effectively say nothing about baggage. That's due to the Carriage by Air Act and the Montreal Convention, which stipulate that compensation for lost baggage or delayed baggage must be contained in the airlines' own domestic tariffs on baggage. This means that consumer frustration with baggage can only be solved with a directive for the airlines to meet a minimum standard in their tariffs from the minister or the CTA.
PIAC also wishes to underline that the present APPRs are under attack by the airlines, first by WestJet arguing that all crew shortages are safety cases, and more recently by Air Canada questioning whether crew training is out of their control in appeals from the CTA to the Federal Court of Appeal. We note that in the EU, under their passenger protection regime, staffing shortages generally must be planned for and compensation must be paid except in very unusual circumstances, with the implicit message from the regulator to the airlines not to schedule flights for which they cannot manage their labour supply.
Second, major Canadian as well as U.S. and European carriers, along with IATA, are challenging the entire APPRs, for international flights and domestic ones as well—I was just rereading some of the pleadings—at the Federal Court of Appeal, saying they conflict with the Montreal and Chicago conventions. This committee can and should, by contrast, express its support for the APPRs despite growing pains and challenges. Consumers need the APPRs as a counterweight to airline power. This committee should recommend future amendments to the APPRs and any other law or treaty to fill any gaps that these airline court challenges reveal.
Lastly, we note that the major airlines fired or retired workers during COVID-19. They made their own labour shortage despite taking large CEWS amounts that were intended to keep staff on the payroll. Most airlines also took some or all of the money offered as bailouts—not WestJet of course, and Air Canada only for consumer refunds—but were not required to rehire or be ready to restart at the start of this summer. This money only supported their balance sheets while COVID requirements faded away.
Thank you. I look forward to your questions.
Thank you very much to all of the panellists for their presentations. Certainly, I know members of Parliament are often very well versed in dealing with airports and airlines. We certainly hear from our constituents who have concerns when things go sideways.
For the first question I want to ask, perhaps I'll start with Mr. Lukács.
Numerous panellists mentioned the EU as a good model to follow. Another witness indicated that—I wrote down the language because it was excellent—chaos at the airports made us an international laughing stock. I think we saw a lot of issues with airplanes being held on tarmacs, for instance, because the customs halls were completely full. We heard a lot of those delays being attributed to the flawed $54-million ArriveCAN app. We heard about problems with CATSA causing massive security lineups, which had an impact as well.
Does the EU model that was referenced numerous times take into account all of the agencies, all of the parts of the passenger experience and the things that can go wrong with baggage, security, ground crews and airports? Does the EU model take those things into account, and is there any accountability for the agencies that provide services to passengers, in addition to the airlines? Obviously people pay the money to airlines and therefore expect to get rebates from them. Maybe you could comment on whether there are additional groups that are impacted by the EU legislation.
The EU model deals with the relationship between passengers and the airlines. It is without prejudice to the airline's right, then, to recover costs from a third party for damages. What we need to bear in mind is that both under the EU law and under the Montreal Convention, which is an international treaty, the airline is the passenger's final address for issues.
For example, if the passenger's baggage, after it was checked in, is damaged by security, then the passenger claims the baggage damage through the airline. The airline can then talk to CATSA or any other security agency to recover those damages, but insofar as the passenger is concerned, it is a matter between the passenger and the airline.
We also understand that these are complex systems. The European Union's regime recognizes the notion of an extraordinary circumstance like a snowstorm or volcanic eruption, which relieves the airline from the obligation to pay compensation. However, most situations relating to ground crew, fuelling aircraft and ensuring they have sufficient crewing and that they planned their flights properly are within the airline's control.
Airlines, even in Canada, had all the information they needed to estimate the problems that would be happening in the summer. They had all the information they needed in order to know what would happen and to know that perhaps CATSA or the airport facilities were imperfect, but they were still not able to handle the volume of traffic reflected by the sales of tickets by airlines.
What happened this past summer was a situation in which airlines were overselling the airport facility's capacity and they knew it perfectly well. That would have been, in the European situation, within the airline's control. It would be a whole different situation if, for example, God forbid you had an air crash, you had to close one of the runways suddenly and it was not known in advance.
Welcome to all of our witnesses online and the people in the room today. All of your testimony provided many examples of individuals and groups that have been denied refunds, and I note the other issues you've raised.
I think a number of factors unfortunately converged to create the perfect storm and a problem for air passengers. Very soon after the government introduced its new passenger rights system in 2019, there were, notably, the pandemic and subsequent shutdowns of most air travel, labour shortages that persisted and so on. Even after the public health measures were relaxed, we still had major problems.
Given that, would you say that on balance, we are still better off with the legislative and regulatory framework, as opposed to the situation that existed before, when each individual airline set its own system, including compensation amounts?
I'll start with Mr. Lawford and then go to Mr. Charbonneau. Then we'll ask a couple of people online.
Thank you very much, Mr. Chair.
In light of what we are hearing from the various witnesses appearing today, there seems to be a consensus that the current complaints process is not working. According to the witnesses, the system is downright broken. As a result, consumers end up discouraged, and airlines feel emboldened to not treat them well and not respect their rights.
However, with regard to the proposed solutions, there would seem to be nuances, differences, about which I would like the witnesses' comments.
According to Ms. De Bellefeuille, an approach that would reverse the burden of proof should be preferred. It would then be up to the airlines to show that they did not have to compensate the air passengers. As I understand her perspective, whenever a flight was cancelled, passengers would be reimbursed by default and it would be up to the airline to take steps to ensure otherwise.
Could such an approach hold water?
Mr. Charbonneau, let's start with you.
Certainly the burden of proof must rest with the air carriers.
On the other hand, they can come out with all sorts of evidence, as I have already said. Now, the consumer is not an expert and does not know the rights and obligations of the carriers, so he or she will not know what to do with them if left to their own devices. So someone has to be able to decide and say whether the evidence provided is reliable, whether the facts are true and whether the arguments are valid.
This is the role of the Canadian Transportation Agency or any other agency, which must be able to decide at the first stage, very easily and very quickly, in order to avoid overly long processing times and too much complexity. Above all, travellers must not be left to their own devices when they take the steps, which is what the carriers are demanding at present. Travellers are not equipped to do this. As Ms. De Bellefeuille said, they find themselves fighting like David against Goliath. They don't have the means to deal with multinationals that have almost unlimited resources.
Thank you to all of our witnesses for being here today.
What we've heard so far at this meeting is a pretty stunning indictment of the air passenger protection regulations and how they've been enforced during a time when air passengers across the country have gone through some pretty extreme circumstances and have been put in some extremely inconvenient situations. Of course, the study that our committee has undertaken is coming at a time when there are over 20,000 complaints before the CTA, and it is right before the Christmas travel season, when we risk seeing that number jump even higher.
I have a whole bunch of questions, but I want to start with Mr. Lukács.
Welcome back to the committee, Mr. Lukács. I want to start by asking you if you can elaborate on the specific regulatory and legislative changes that you believe this committee should recommend as a way of strengthening Canada's air passenger rights system.
Actually, it's a combination of both situations. For the most part, people don't go further because of their lack of knowledge of their rights and the carrier's obligations. Also, from the outset, either a lot of misinformation occurs or no information is provided.
I am telling you about an experience I had a few weeks ago. I had gone to Halifax for the weekend. On the morning of my return, I arrived at the airport to catch my flight, but the flight was not displayed on the screen. When I got to the counter to follow up, I saw a small sign that said the counter would open at 3:30. Yet my flight was at 8:30, all the passengers were there, but no one knew if the flight was delayed or cancelled and if there would be another flight.
I was the one who talked to the 90 people to tell them what they were entitled to and what the carrier's obligations were. All these people were left to their own devices.
In fact, often when releases are issued, it is to say that these are exceptional circumstances and there is no right to compensation. In this case, I dug around to find out why this was the case. I was told that it was a safety reason, but I was never able to find out the details.
I don't think the APPRs themselves have any large effect on cancellations or delays. I think when we went into this, after Mr. Emerson did his report, and we were setting up the regulations, we thought that if airlines had a lot of fines to pay for these cancellations and delays, they would change their habits.
Well, it doesn't work that way. It actually looks like when they get a number of claims, they continue to cancel flights because the economics are so much larger for choosing a different aircraft, changing the schedule or not having staff. Those costs really pale compared to the consumers' compensation.
Really the scheme, I've come to think, is more about compensating consumers for their inconvenience because the system isn't going to work. We have other problems, as I think you heard in previous committee meetings, around the way airports work, the way security works and all of these international flight and competition issues.
You can still fly. What really gets under my skin about this entire thing is that airlines can still fly. They can fly late. They can cancel flights. They just have to pay.
What we're missing here is the sort of automatic.... If a 100 people on a 200-passenger plane make a claim, well, too bad: Pay for 100 cancellations or 100 delays. That's the cost of stranding people if you're going to operate like this. That might give them an incentive to change in future, but at least those people will get something for having been crushed under the wheels, so to speak.
Thank you very much, Mr. Chair.
I want to go back to the complexity of the Canadian Transportation Agency's complaints system and the complexity of the air passenger protection regulations.
Finally, people say that all sorts of possible situations lead to all sorts of possible resolutions. So you have to rack your brains to figure out whether it's the carrier's responsibility or the other and under what circumstances, and all of that clogs up an administrative tribunal. We're talking about compensation amounts of $500, $1,000, or $2,000, and when you add in all the legal fees to go to court and the salaries of the officials to document and process the complaints, it ends up being very expensive.
During the pandemic, I had introduced Bill , which sought to simplify things by requiring people to be reimbursed when their flight is cancelled. It is not complicated. It's kind of like when I order a pizza: if I don't get it, I'll get my money back. It doesn't matter if there's a snowstorm, if the deliveryman hasn't put on his winter tires or if there's a lot of traffic: he still has to deliver my pizza, and he has to do it the same day, not three weeks later. Otherwise, he has to pay me back.
Wouldn't it be simpler to do it this way, rather than go through the trouble of inventing thousands of rules and hiring lots of civil servants only to have a system that doesn't work? Why not go back to my original proposal, Bill ?
Ms. De Bellefeuille, what do you think?
I would like to thank the witnesses for their testimony today. It's been very informative. It sheds some light on the information we already have about the unprecedented disruptions to flights, and the delays and cancellations, over the past two years.
My first question is for Mr. Lawford.
I would like to know whether the numbers you stated for the labour shortages, between 16,000 and 20,000.... Actually, you said there were 16,000 to 20,000 backlogged responses. You said that was within the last year. Does that number also include the ones that are two years old, or do you have another number? Is that just for one year?
Thank you, Mr. Chairman.
I think we recognize in this conversation, over and above the lack of consideration by the airlines for customers, the need to look at the mandate of the CTA. We all recognize as well that in these committee meetings, witness testimony is going to inform the basis of the report that goes to the and therefore the response from the minister on that report and future recommendations.
What I'm really interested in are the recommendations to fix or update the problems at the CTA. Frankly, I want to focus on the business of good government and not, as we may assume in today's meeting, the business of good politics. This issue simply does not have the time or patience to allow politics to rear its ugly head.
With that, policy and legislation are established by Parliament. The administration and implementation of that policy and legislation are the responsibility of the CTA. What we're hearing today is a narrative about fixing the problems that are happening within the CTA.
I have my opinions. I have my problems with the CTA in my own riding, so I get it. I understand exactly what you're all talking about.
I'll start off with Mr. Lawford, and Mr. Charbonneau is going to follow. I'm going to open up the floor to recommendations on updating legislation with respect to the CTA mandate, which would be the responsibility of Parliament. Let's ensure that the process is user friendly and other things.
My second question with respect to that is whether you feel the should have a role in ensuring that the CTA mandate is adhered to, over and above only establishing or updating legislation, versus forcing individuals to have to pursue accountability through the courts.
Mr. Lawford, we'll start with you.
The first question is easier to answer.
One thing I would suggest, which doesn't involve a lot of back-and-forth and changing the act that creates the CTA, is to do what the CRTC did. There was a directive from the government asking if they could make a consumer complaints agency, and we were waiting. They gave them one year to do a report and set up that system.
What came out was the Commission for Complaints for Telecom-television Services that now does this at semi-arm's length but is overseen, especially for systemic issues, by the CRTC. They didn't have to change the legislation for the CRTC; they just asked them to set this up. It's paid for mostly by the industry, yet it's administered by the CRTC through this new body of the CCTS. That would be one way to get around this quickly without having to amend a lot of legislation.
I guess I didn't quite understand your second question, so I apologize. Maybe you'll want to circle back to me to not waste time.
Thank you, Mr. Chair, and thank you to all the witnesses.
This is where I get to vent a bit, finally. Two weeks ago I jumped on a plane in Ottawa. I flew to Pearson Airport. I got off said plane and my flight was cancelled, so I was given a Crowne Plaza certificate to stay in a hotel and two $10 vouchers, which are great because they last a long time in the airport, for sure.
I had a 9:40 reservation for the next morning to get on a plane to get to Windsor, which was cancelled. Then I had a 4 p.m. flight to get to Windsor, which was cancelled. Then I had a 7 p.m. flight, which was cancelled. All of that said, at 9:40 a.m. on Sunday, one finally went to Windsor. What did I end up doing? Having some kind of a crystal ball, I decided to jump in an Uber on Friday night so I could get home to my meetings.
That's Chris's frustration, but what's more important than Chris's frustration is the frustration of the business owners—I used to sit on the international trade committee—who this spring flew into Windsor and sat on the tarmac for hours. They were there to finalize a major million-dollar deal for automotive, and they couldn't get a CATSA member or CBSA officer to clear them off the tarmac in Windsor because one of their apps didn't work, through no fault of their own. They then got back in said plane and flew back to the United States, and Canada forever lost their business.
Mr. Lawford, you said that labour shortages have played a major role. I heard you say that, and you went on to say, “there were problems with other aspects of the government”. What other aspects of the government were you talking about, sir?
I agree that a refund is required. However, when things become automatic, it's important to ensure that the measure is followed.
At the moment, the only automatic refund provided for under the regulations is for overbooking. The compensation has to be paid automatically within the following 48 hours. But even here, there are gaps. So we always need to make sure that the measure is complied with.
Even when a refund is offered, there are other factors to take into consideration. Passengers who learn upon arriving at the airport that they are out of luck because of overbooking should, even if given a refund, quickly take further steps. If portions of the trip had to be covered by land, they will be out of pocket. A new ticket also has to be purchased. I don't know if you've looked at the price of flights recently, but it's been increasing by almost $100 a day. This means that someone who purchased a ticket at a specific price and had it cancelled, the new ticket might cost twice as much. That passenger is caught in a last minute situation at the airport, perhaps without even being able to find another flight.
That's why damages to passengers need to be taken into account. The refund is a good start, and I fully agree with it, but more than that is needed.
I'm not in the best position to comment on that.
From the consumer standpoint, I think everyone who buys a ticket expects to be able to get on the plane. However, there is also the commercial side, with 5% to 10% of registered passengers failing to show up at the airport. That's why overbooking exists and that's why it's allowed by the government. It's also practised in Europe and the United States. However, different scenarios have to be anticipated.
In the United States, ever since someone, a doctor, was forcefully removed from a United Airlines aircraft a few years ago, up to $10,000 is being offered to people who volunteer to take another flight before attempting to force anyone to get off.
Might there not be a way to work like this, by increasing payments to find volunteers rather than forcing people?