PIAC presented to the Senate Standing Committee on Transport and Communications (TRCM) last night on Bill C-49, An Act to amend the Canada Transportation Act and other Acts respecting transportation and to make related and consequential amendments to other Acts, on the subject of air passenger rights.  Here is the written text of the oral remarks.
Written notes for an oral submission to the Senate Standing Committee on Transportation and Communications
Bill C-49, An Act to amend the Canada Transportation Act and other Acts respecting transportation and to make related and consequential amendments to other Acts
Ottawa, Ontario
February 28, 2017
[Check against delivery.]
John Lawford:

  1. The Public Interest Advocacy Centre (“PIAC”) is a national, non-profit organization and registered charity that provides legal and research services on behalf of consumer interests, and, in particular, vulnerable consumer interests, concerning the provision of important public services.
  2. PIAC has been active on consumer airline travel since the late 1980s;[1] through the Air Canada-Canadian Airlines merger in 1999-2000; through the first iteration of the Air Transport Commissioner of Complaints and its eventual demise; and now through the lead up to the first serious airline passenger consumer protection effort: Bill C-49.
  3. Our message today is simple: we support Bill C-49 as written. It will vastly improve airline travel for average Canadians and it likely will provide acceptable levels of redress for consumers that are mistreated by airlines.
  4. How will Bill C-49 achieve these goals? First, it will provide consistent, clear baseline consumer protections, including minimum standards of treatment and minimum compensation for two of the most common airline travel complaints: delayed and canceled flights and denial of boarding. Different scales of treatment and compensation will likely be provided in the forthcoming regulations depending on whether the cause of these problems is within the control of the airline or for safety or other reasons such as weather. We anticipate the rules arrived at will be fair to consumers and to airlines and that they will promote good airline practices.
  5. Second, airlines will have to pay consistent minimum compensation for lost or damaged baggage – a stubborn air travel failure. Tarmac delays, another consumer nightmare, will be consistently treated so passengers can get information and help and, hopefully, a clear right to return to the terminal to disembark after a reasonable, humane time.
  6. Third – notice my underlining the words “consistent”. Bill C-49 will override the byzantine “tariffs” now filed by the airlines which are all different and which no average consumer has any hope of even finding, let alone using to achieve resolution of his or her complaint. Present tariffs are so complex that for-profit entities have seized a business opportunity for consumers that should not exist. Having consistent, simpler rules under Bill C-49’s structure will empower consumers who are not treated to this standard to receive redress through effective dispute resolution that is consumer self-directed.
  7. As you will have heard, other countries have better air travel consumer protection regimes than Canada. Europe has extensive passenger protections including set compensation for delayed and canceled flights. The U.S. has serious fines for tarmac delays. There is no reason for Canadians not to enjoy world-standard consumer protection in the essential service of air travel. It is well overdue.
  8. I must admit to our bias in this debate. PIAC drafted a report on the lack of consumer protections in air travel for the Canadian Transportation Review Secretariat. What is in Bill C-49 is very close to what we recommended and it was reflected in the Emerson report. To see that work thrown aside, should this Committee or another so recommend, would be a rejection of years of work on behalf of consumers in an industry that has proved to be allergic to treating its own customers with dignity.
  9. The lack of consumer protection in air travel presently looks a lot like the telecommunications and banking industries did prior to the creation of their Ombudsman services, namely the Commission for Complaints for Telecom-Television Services (CCTS) and the Ombudsman for Banking Services and Investments (OBSI) respectively. Why should airlines not be similarly regulated to other major consumer essential services? We can tell you that a “bill of rights” or “consumer code” coupled with an Ombudsman to hear complaints is effective and the standard in federally regulated industries now.
  10. All Bill C-49 does, therefore, is to give air travel consumers baseline standards of treatment and redress. Airlines would prefer not to have such clear and effective rules. They have proven unable to operate humanely without such rules. Consumers deserve what Bill C-49 will bring.
  11. PIAC thanks the Committee for this opportunity to speak to you today and we are happy to answer any questions from you.

[1] See Andrew J. Roman, Airline Deregulation in Canada: Why it Failed (Ottawa, Public Interest Research Centre, May 1989). Hard copies available from PIAC.