'Unacceptable': Trudeau gov. urged to crack down on airlines denying passengers compensation

WATCH: Canada’s transportation regulator has received almost 10,000 complaints since the new Air Passenger Protection law came into effect last year. Seán O’Shea reports.

With nearly 10,000 complaints filed by airline passengers since last July, critics are calling on the Trudeau government to crack down on major air carriers who are allegedly violating Canada’s air passenger protection laws.

“Airlines are finding creative ways to work around the rules to confuse people with the intent of not living up to their obligations,” NDP Transport critic Niki Ashton told Global News. “There shouldn’t be loopholes in terms of airlines being able to avoid compensating people financially.”

READ MORE: Air Canada customers say claims wrongly denied under new passenger rules

Nearly a dozen Air Canada passengers interviewed by Global News allege the airline 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 December.

Under the new laws, large airlines — like Air Canada, WestJet or Air Transat — must pay passengers between $400 and $1,000 when their flights are delayed by three hours or more for reasons within the airlines control. Smaller airlines, like Swoop or Flair, are required to pay anywhere from $125 to $500.

Airlines caught breaking the new regulations could face up to $25,000 in fines for each violation.

Ten passengers who spoke with Global News provided documents and correspondence with Air Canada that showed flights cancelled or delayed for 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 initially rejected by Air Canada who claimed events outside of its control caused the flight disruptions.

Ottawa resident Carla Di Censo, whose Air Canada flight was cancelled over “crew constraints,” said she believes this is part of “a systemic strategy not to pay” passengers.

“It’s very clear to me that it’s an approach they’re using to avoid having to pay these claims out.”

Air Canada eventually paid her husband $1000, but Di Censo said her and her daughter’s claims are still outstanding.

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.”

CAA calls the allegations ‘unacceptable’

Canadian Automobile Association spokesperson Kristine D’Arbelles said CAA expected some “kinks and bugs” as the new regulations kicked in, but called the alleged conduct of major airlines “unacceptable.”

“Telling someone one reason for and then changing that reason later on is not the spirit of the airline passenger rights regime,” she said.

CAA is calling on the federal government to take greater enforcement action against airlines that are breaking the rules.

“The more they crack down on airlines that are not respecting the new regime, the faster airlines are going to start pulling up their socks.”

READ MORE: Changes to air passengers’ rights are now in effect. Here’s what you should know

Recent reports of passengers struggling to obtain compensation for flight disruptions also point to problems in the government’s new Air Passenger Protection Regulations (APPR), according to Ashton.

“The passenger bill of rights does not go far enough.”

Under the new rules airlines are allowed to cite maintenance issues as a cause for delays and cancellations that exempts them from providing compensation to passengers, Ashton noted.

Airlines do not owe compensation for flight disruptions caused by technical issues required for safety purposes and identified outside of scheduled maintenance.

“That is not the case in Europe,” Ashton said, noting that experts who testified before the House of Commons have indicated the European Union rules have resulted in airlines more promptly addressing mechanical problems.

Airline expert Seth Kaplan said airlines allegedly cancelling flights for one reason and then denying compensation for another reason is “clearly wrong.”

CAA, which was involved in the APPR consultation process, is calling on the federal government and the Canadian Transportation Agency to release more data about the growing number of complaints.

The CTA has said it’s received 9,757 air travel complaints since phase one of the APPR first came into effect on July 15, 2019, calling the number “unprecedented.”

“We need to see what is actually going on, what is the breadth of the issue, what kinds of complaints are out there,” D’Arbelles said. “In any new regime you’re going to see a lot of complaints … but the examples that we are seeing now are clear violations of the .”

Transport Minister Marc Garneau did not respond to questions about whether his office would be investigating but encouraged Canadians to report any complaints to the CTA.

“With respect to Air Canada or any other airline, the new passenger protection rules are there. At the moment this is a brand new set of regulations. It’s understandable in some cases there will be a different interpretation. I encourage Canadians who feel they did not get an adequate response where they feel there rights were not respected to go to the CTA.”

© 2020 Global News, a division of Corus Entertainment Inc.

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