Just over two months after the Canadian government tightened air traveller protections, four major airlines were fined for not complying with the rules.
WestJet, Air Canada, Porter Airlines and Air Transat were all hit with penalties on Aug. 27.
It’s the first round of fines from the Canadian Transportation Agency (CTA) since phase-one of the federal Air Passenger Protection Regulations came into effect on July 15.
The new regulations were set out to help Canadian travellers who run into a myriad of problems with their airlines, including flight bumping, tarmac delays and damaged luggage.
It also made airlines obligated to communicate more clearly with passengers.
In each of the violations, the carriers failed to properly display newly-mandated notices to passengers.
WestJet was fined a total of $17,500 for seven violations of this rule, while Air Canada was hit with a $12,500 fine for five violations.
Both Air Transat and Porter Airlines were hit with $7,500 fines for three violations each.
The end result — 18 penalties for a total of $45,000.
According to the regulations, airlines operating flights to or from a Canadian airport must display a notice at check-in desks, self-service machines and boarding gates about the new rules. The notice should read:
“IF you are denied boarding or your baggage is lost or damaged, you may be entitled to certain standards of treatment and compensation under the Air Passenger Protection regulars. For more information about your passenger rights please contact your air carrier or visit the Canadian Transportation Agency’s website.”
The violations were found at several airports, including Calgary International Airport and Quebec City Jean Lesage International Airport.
Air Canada said the implementation of the new regulations has been a “complex” process for airlines. The company said it is “reviewing” the CTA’s decision.
“We had to review and adjust more than 400 individual items and procedures across our entire system in order to comply with the requirements of the first phase of the regulations alone,” spokesperson Peter Fitzpatrick said in a statement.
“With new rules of such complexity, there are always questions of interpretation, so we are reviewing the CTA’s decision. Nonetheless, it is Air Canada’s intention to fully abide by the APPR and we have put in place the necessary policies and procedures to ensure compliance.”
Officials from WestJet said they are working with individual airports to comply with the CTA rules.
“WestJet will now undertake further meetings with our airport partners, the CTA and other stakeholders to work towards signage compliance as soon as possible,” an email from a spokesperson read.
The CTA says the deadline for airlines to pay the fines is Sept. 30.
“The CTA continues to actively monitor compliance with APPR,” a media spokesperson said in a statement to Global News. “The CTA will post additional notices of violations, as they are issued.”
Air passenger rights advocates have largely criticized the so-called passenger “bill of rights.” The penalty system has not been immune to criticism.
Gabor Lukacs, the founder of Air Passenger Rights, said the fines are merely “symbolic.”
He noted that the 18 fines of $2,500 per violation are a small percentage of the maximum penalty the CTA could levy.
“Each fine carries a maximum penalty of $25,000. So, the maximum penalty that could have been issued here is 18 (violations) multiplied by $25,000, making $450,000,” he told Global News.
“The amount of $2,500 per violation is ridiculous. It shows that the fines were issued only to make headlines, and not to foster compliance.”
Lukacs’ group has launched a campaign to improve the air passenger’s rights. The group claims the rules “make this worse” for travellers and don’t do enough to hold carriers accountable.
“The fines are used as smoke and mirrors to cover up real, ongoing issues about airlines systematically misleading the public about their rights,” he said.
“The system is clearly broken.”
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The second phase of the so-called passenger “bill of rights” won’t come into effect until December.
At that time, regulations surrounding compensation for flight cancellations and seating for families will be ushered in.
Air Canada and Porter Airlines are among a group of carriers seeking to axe the new rules.
The group of 17 airlines filed a legal challenge, arguing that the bill of rights violate international standards and should be rendered invalid.