Canada’s air transport regulator has ruled that Air Canada made a false statement to a traveller last year when the passenger pursued a claim for compensation after their baggage was delayed on a flight to Costa Rica from Canada.
The Canadian Transportation Agency (CTA) found that “Air Canada made a false statement contravening … the Air Transportation Regulations.”
The airline sent the customer a letter and offered “a cheque in the amount of $129” and “an Air Canada gift card in the amount of $400.”
Air Canada characterized the payments offered “as a gesture of goodwill” in a letter dated Jan. 28, 2016, in which a representative also wrote the customer had no other possibility of receiving additional compensation — a statement the agency ruled was not true.
“Unfortunately, this (additional compensation) cannot be guaranteed as there are too many variables involved. Airline tariff regulations therefore preclude liability for consequential claims if baggage is delayed,” the Air Canada letter read.
“That’s absolutely false. Of course they are liable,” Gabor Lukacs, founder and coordinator of Air Passenger Rights, a Halifax-based consumer rights organization specializing in complaints against airlines said.
Article 19 of the Montreal Convention, contained in the decision, highlighted Air Canada’s liability.
“The carrier is liable for damages occasioned by delay in the carriage by air of passengers, baggage or cargo,” the article read.
Additionally, Air Canada’s Tariff Rule 105 describes how the Montreal Convention rules should be applied.
“For the purpose of international carriage governed by the Montreal Convention, the Liability rules set out in the Montreal Convention shall supersede and prevail over any provisions of this tariff which may be inconsistent with those rules,” it said.
But Lukacs said the airline is not following the rules set out in the Montreal Convention, adopted in 2003. Lukacs said he has sent examples of other violations to the airline and is collecting additional cases to be brought to the regulator.
“A general attitude exists where Air Canada will call anything and everything goodwill compensation even when it is owed by law to the passenger,” Lukacs said.
“I have concerns about how Air Canada is handling claims of passengers for baggage, but it is not the only area where Air Canada is misleading the public, in my opinion,” Lukas told Global News.
The transportation agency complaint was filed by Jeremy Cooperstock of Montreal. He is a McGill University professor acting on behalf of the airline traveler.
Cooperstock asked the agency to determine if Air Canada misled the passenger, which the order did.
He also asked the regulator to order Air Canada to refrain from communicating similar information to other passengers in the future, and to include a written statement on its website making reference to Air Canada’s Tariff and the Montreal Convention articles setting out consumer rights. The agency did not make those orders.
Air Canada told Global News it is reviewing the CTA ruling.
“Air Canada did provide the required compensation for these expenses in 2016 at the time the claim was made and offered additional compensation beyond any legal requirement, reflecting our commitment to our passengers’ customer experience.”
Lukacs said he disagrees, adding that under the Montreal Convention a passenger can claim up to $2,000 in expenses for delayed baggage.
“There is systematic evidence of the airline misinforming,” Cooperstock told Global News, pointing to problems faced by air travelers who have faced similar denials of responsibility.
Customers can sue airlines in small claims courts if they wish, but it’s rare and potentially difficult as well as costly.
“It’s onerous,” Cooperstock said. “Most passengers realize the small claims process is not worth the payout.”
The Canadian Transportation Agency told Global News it is still considering a possible penalty for Air Canada’s breach of regulations.
“The CTA has referred this matter to a Designated Enforcement Officer for any action that they may find to be appropriate in the circumstances pursuant to section 180 of the Canada Transportation Act,” a spokesperson said.
But Cooperstock and Lukacs each said the CTA is “too cozy” with airlines and are unlikely, based on history, to levy any significant penalty.
“Even in blatant cases where an airline is caught with its pants down at most they are looking at a slap on the wrist.”