The Canadian Transportation Agency has launched an investigation into complaints from air passengers alleging that airlines are not accurately reporting the reasons for flight delays or cancellations.
The announcement from the CTA follows reports from Global News and other media alleging that Air Canada is intentionally mis-referencing flights or misrepresenting the cause of flight delays in order to avoid paying compensation under the Air Passenger Protection Regulations (APPR) that came into effect in two phases in July and December.
“Airlines have an obligation, under the Air Passenger Protection Regulations, to provide timely, accurate information to passengers on the reasons for flight delays and cancellations,” Scott Streiner, chair and CEO of the CTA, said in a statement.
“This inquiry will look into allegations that in some cases, airlines haven’t lived up to this obligation. If the evidence shows that happened, we’ll take appropriate action.”
The CTA, which handles complaints related to the new passenger laws, says it has received nearly 10,000 air travel complaints since phase one of the regulations came into effect on July 15, 2019. The agency has just 55 employees working to resolve the complaints.
That compares with 6,449 for the entire fiscal year of 2018 (April 1 to March 31), and 3,636 for all of 2017, according to the CTA.
Air Canada passengers interviewed by Global News provided copies of flight notifications from the airline that showed the cause of delays and cancellations were staffing or scheduling issues, which are considered within an airline’s control and eligible for compensation under the new regulations.
All the claims, however, were then rejected by Air Canada, which claimed events outside of its control caused the flight disruptions. In some cases the airline would deny claims by incorrectly referencing flights that were not part of the claim.
Air Canada has said its policy is to “fully abide by the APPR.”
“We have put in place the necessary processes and procedures to ensure compliance and are dealing with customers directly,” Air Canada said in a statement. “We have no additional information to offer, but would point out for context that since the APPRs first took effect, we have transported more than 25 million customers.”
Canadian Automobile Association vice president of public affairs Ian Jack welcomed news of the CTA inquiry.
“We’ve been calling on the government to show it is taking enforcement seriously, so we’re pleased to see this action,” said Jack.
“Passengers — and for that matter the carriers — deserve to know what’s acceptable behaviour and what’s not. We hope the CTA moves as quickly as possible with this probe so the people who’ve complained get answers soon.”
The CTA said that announcing an inquiry is the most efficient way of dealing with the issues raised by passengers and ensuring that the requirements of the regulations are clear for both passengers and airlines.
The agency has said the investigation will be handled by the CTA’s chief compliance officer, who will spend the next six weeks collecting and analyzing evidence, including evidence from airlines on the delays and cancellations.
“Within about a month, we’ll be posting, and regularly updating, an online dashboard that gives information about the number of complaints received, broken down by carrier,” the agency said.
Airline passenger rights advocate Gabor Lukacs said he believes it’s not just a question of airlines avoiding paying compensations but unclear legislation enacted by federal Transport Minister Marc Garneau.
“The root of the problem is the government’s fundamentally flawed legislation,” he said. “It is unfortunate that the government does not want to own up to it.”
Lukacs has repeatedly warned that under the APPR delays or cancellations can be denied for maintenance required for safety purposes, something that creates the potential for airlines to misrepresent minor repairs and routine upkeep as safety-related.
“We are concerned that the outcome of the inquiry will be mostly whitewashing the airlines with a small slap on the wrist,” he said.