Agency proposes set fines for airline delays

The Canadian Press
Jordan Press

OTTAWA–Air passengers who are bumped from over-booked flights or forced to sit through long delays could receive up to $2,400 in compensation–cash or something more than a pile of coffee coupons–under proposed regulations for the government’s long-promised passenger bill of rights.
The proposed compensation will use a sliding scale, with larger airlines and longer delays requiring bigger compensation payments.
Payments to passengers whose flights are delayed will max out at $1,000 and cancellations at $2,400–but it will be up to the passenger to file a claim with the airlines.
Once draft regulations are published Saturday, Canadians will have 60 days to comment–meaning there may be one last battle between consumer advocates and airlines over the breadth of the proposed regulations.
Consumer advocates said yesterday that they planned to push the government to further tighten rules around tarmac delays and when an airline can get out of paying compensation.
“We want to make sure that the government doesn’t take any steps back in what they’ve already announced, and, if possible, we can move them forward even further,” said Ian Jack, managing director of communications and government relations for the Canadian Automobile Association.
Gabor Lukacs, with the advocacy group Air Passenger Rights, said the proposed rules don’t make it easy for passengers to receive compensation when things go wrong.
“The public is being deceived here by the government,” Lukacs charged. “This has been an industry-friendly legislation that the minister cynically calls an air passenger bill of rights.”
The draft regulations lay out the minimum standards airlines will have to follow for situations in their control–or face a $25,000 fine.
The aim is to have the rules take effect by next summer.
Aside from situations beyond their control, there are loopholes that could allow an airline to get off the hook for compensation, specifically mechanical issues as defined by the airlines that make it unsafe to fly.
Advocates already are calling for a tighter definition so the loophole isn’t abused.
Transport minister Marc Garneau was adamant airlines won’t mess around with safety and dismissed the idea that companies will look for ways to get out of compensating passengers.
“If that were to happen, and I don’t believe for one second it will happen, there would be measures taken to penalize them,” he pledged.
The regulations also would force airlines to automatically seat children under age 14 near their parents rather than require them to pay an additional fee to select their own seats.
They also would require airlines to provide food, water, air conditioning, and use of bathrooms during tarmac delays, but not require a flight unload passengers until a delay hits three hours.
However, the three-hour limit can get one 45-minute extension if the flight is likely to take off during that period.