Canada’s transportation regulator will create new rules to address delays faced by air travelers stuck in an airplane on the ground for three hours or less.
In a direction issued by Minister of Transport Marc Garneau, the Canadian Transportation Agency must create regulations “respecting the treatment for passengers during tarmac delays under three hours, regardless of whether the delays are within or outside the air carrier’s control.”
The direction was registered in the Canada Gazette on April 26.
The initiative follows the release in December 2018 of the government’s proposed Air Passengers Regulations, commonly referred to as the air passenger bill of rights.
The regulations allowed airlines to keep passengers on board an aircraft for more than three hours before deplaning, even though the Senate recommended that the upper limit be no more than 90 minutes.
Air Passenger Rights, a non-profit advocacy group for air traveler rights based in Halifax, strongly criticized the proposed rules as “fundamentally flawed.”
More than 8,000 Canadians sent emails to the federal government in response to a call for public input.
The organization’s founder and coordinator Gabor Lukacs said he welcomes the directive, following what he called a public protest.
“The minister’s decision is a step in the right direction,” said Lukacs.
“We are pleased that the transport minister has recognized that Canadians should not be kept on the tarmac for three hours or more. This is what we and the Senate have been saying all along.”
Tarmac delays are nothing new for airline passengers in Canada.
In April, the Canadian Transportation Agency fined Sunwing $694,500 for a series of issues ranging from tarmac delays to baggage problems that affected more than 16,000 passengers.
In its decision, the CTA also ordered the airline to compensate passengers for out-of-pocket expenses incurred because of delays between April 14 and April 18, 2018 at Pearson International Airport.
The regulator fined Air Transat $295,000 for delays on two flights in July 2017.
Two Air Transat flights bound for Montreal were rerouted to Ottawa due to severe weather. Passengers were kept on the aircraft for up to six hours before they were allowed to leave.
According to Air Transat, one of the two aircraft ran out of fuel during the delay before losing power and caused the air conditioning system to shut down. At least one passenger called 911 during the ordeal.
As part of complying with the CTA’s decision, Air Transat agreed to compensate affected passengers $500 each. The airline was also ordered to amend its tariff agreement requiring passengers to disembark after a delay of four hours, unless there are safety, security, or air traffic control issues that prevent doing so.
The new directive orders the CTA to spell out an airline’s responsibilities and a passenger’s rights if the plane is delayed.
“The Canadian Transportation Agency must make a regulation respecting a carrier’s obligations towards passengers in the case of tarmac delays of three hours or less, including the obligation to provide timely information and assistance to passengers as well as the minimum standards of treatment of passengers.”
Global News contacted Transport Canada to find out how airline passengers would be affected by the new direction.
“In the case of a tarmac delay that is less than three hours, passengers will be provided with access to working lavatories, proper ventilation and cooling or heating, the ability to communicate with people outside the aircraft if feasible, and food and drink in reasonable quantities,” said Annie Joannette, a Transport Canada spokesperson.
–With files from Alvin Yu