Consumer protections for air travel passengers? What a crazy idea! This past week, U.S. air carrier United Airlines had to navigate an embarrassing and offensive incident which resulted from a passenger being physically dragged off a flight from Chicago, Illinois to Louisville, Kentucky to open up seats for other airline employees. The event prompted a public outcry and serious questions about the level of discretion airlines should have over their customers.
In 2015, PIAC recommended the creation of an Airline Code and an Air Passenger Complaints Commissioner in order to protect air travel consumers. (Photo courtesy of the Nigeria Model United Nations Society)
Canadian airline passengers may be asking the same question here, especially as there are few consumer protection rules and no bill of “air passenger rights” in Canada. The United States at the least has had clear and concrete air passenger rights in the case of flight and tarmac delays since 2009. The European Union also has regulations in place to protect air passenger rights in situations such as flight delays, flight cancellations, and lost baggage. In Canada, airlines are permitted to develop their own policies as to how they will treat passengers in cases such as flight delays, overbooking or lost baggage. Where a passenger disagrees with an airline’s remedy, they can complain to the Canadian Transportation Agency to resolve their specific issue, or file a lengthy legal application to challenge the reasonableness of the airline’s policy.

PIAC Calls for an Airline Code and an Air Passenger Complaints Commissioner

However, it is clear this is no longer enough. Canadians need a single standardized set of air passenger rules so they know they are entitled to certain rights in situations where a flying experience does not go smoothly. In 2015, PIAC prepared a report on Consumer Protections for Airline Passengers for the Canada Transportation Act Review Secretariat recommending the creation of an Airline Code and an Air Passenger Complaints Commissioner in order to protect air travel consumers. The Airline Code could include rules on flight delays and cancellations, delayed or lost baggage, overbooking and child passengers. The #UnitedAirlines incident shows what can go terribly wrong when airlines have full discretion to decide how their customers can be treated. All parties, both air carriers and consumers alike, could use a little air traffic control on these issues.

Transport Minister Confirms a Code is Coming – Hold Him to It

On Tuesday, Transport Minister Marc Garneau confirmed the Canadian federal government will introduce new legislation this spring, and the new “air passenger bill of rights” will address situations such as flight bumping. In PIAC’s view, this is the right step for Canadian airline consumers; a mandatory code of air travel rules could not come any sooner. PIAC will be watching for the new rules and advocating for your consumer rights and protections in air travel. We encourage you to contact your local Member of Parliament (M.P.) and the Transport Minister if air travel rights are important to you too.

PIAC believes additional clarity for air passengers is on the horizon. If air travel rights are important to you as well, contact your M.P. or write the Minister of Transport to let them know. (Photo courtesy of Pixabay)