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The turbulence continues for Canada’s airline industry.
After being grounded for much of the COVID-19 pandemic, many airlines are facing another challenge — thousands of complaints from travellers demanding compensation.
According to the Canadian Transportation Agency (CTA), it received 20,978 air travel complaints from April 1 to Oct. 31, 2022.
The CTA’s website also points out these are just the complaints officially filed with the agency, not those handled by the airlines themselves.
Read more: Sunwing travellers stranded in Mexico demand answers, compensation
Gábor Lukács, founder of the group Air Passenger Rights, told Global News that airlines have to take responsibility for some of the problems plaguing travellers.
“They cannot push the envelope so far as to claim everything is a safety issue,” he said.
Lukács was referring to complaints from passengers who had flights cancelled or delayed due to crew constraints and IT outages. Passengers have told Global News they were denied compensation because the airline said those things were “beyond their control.”
“It doesn’t matter what the airline thinks about a case, it matters what the law says,” Lukács pointed out.
“When an airline experiences an IT issue, generally speaking, it is within an airline’s control.”
The longtime consumer advocate added that all airlines have a “contractual obligation” to get fliers to and from their destination in a reasonable time, regardless of what is going on.
“If your flight is cancelled, the airline has to book you on the next available flight,“ he added.
Lukács went on to say if the airline refuses, passengers should book their own flight with a competitor and try to get refunded by the original airline afterwards.
Read more: More WestJet flight cancellations, disruptions anticipated after weekend outage
So what can passengers do if the airline won’t accommodate their compensation request? Lukács pointed out several ways to get their attention.
Lukács does, however, not recommend filing a complaint with the CTA, adding he believes they are part of the problem.
“I would discourage passengers from going through the Canadian Transportation Agency,” he said.
“They are cozy with the airlines. They are not helping passengers in the vast majority of the cases.”
He added the CTA has a huge backlog of complaints to process.
Read more: Summer of airport chaos: Complaints backlog mounts as regulator faces staff crunch
The CTA told Global News it is an independent, quasi-judicial tribunal and economic regulator. It added it does need to engage with industry stakeholders in order to perform some of its regulatory functions, however that does not make it biased.
“This does not affect the ability of the CTA to decide cases that affect the rights and interests of parties in an independent and impartial manner.”
As for the backlog of complaints, the CTA said all complaints are eventually processed. It added it is now able to process about 15,000 complaints a year compared to the 5,000 complaints (per year) before the pandemic.
Global News also reached out to the Transport Minister. His office told us, “passengers have rights and they need to be respected.”
The spokesperson said passengers are further protected thanks to new rules added Sept. 8., and that the federal government provided an additional $11 million to the CTA to allow it to deal with passenger disputes in a more timely manner.
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