Minister of Transport Marc Garneau responds to a question during Question Period in the House of Commons in Ottawa, Tuesday, Nov. 3, 2020. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Adrian Wyld

Minister of Transport Marc Garneau responds to a question during Question Period in the House of Commons in Ottawa, Tuesday, Nov. 3, 2020. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Adrian Wyld

Airline watchdog ordered to develop new rules for flight cancellation refunds

At least 3.9 million passengers have been affected by cancelled flights due to COVID-19

The federal government is directing the Canadian Transportation Agency to strengthen rules that require airlines to refund passengers for cancelled flights.

In a statement Monday, Federal Transport Minister Marc Garneau said the pandemic has highlighted a gap in Canada’s protections for airline passengers, which weren’t designed to cover such lengthy delays.

“In the event of a future situation that causes similar large-scale flight cancellations, this gap needs to be closed so that travellers are treated fairly,” Garneau said.

Existing CTA rules don’t require airlines to offer refunds if they can get passengers to the destination within a reasonable time period — for example, offering a next-day flight if a snowstorm grounds planes. But passenger advocates say that doesn’t work for the indefinite delays ticket-holders currently face and are lobbying the government to mandate that airlines issue cash refunds, rather than travel vouchers, for flights that were cancelled due to COVID-19.

At least 3.9 million passengers have been affected by cancelled flights due to COVID-19, according to Gabor Lukacs, the founder of Air Passenger Rights, one of the groups advocating for airlines to issue refunds.

Scott Streiner, chair and chief executive officer of the CTA, said the agency’s goal is to have the new regulations in place by next summer.

One of the biggest details to be worked out between now and then include how long customers have to wait after a cancelled flight before they are entitled to a refund, Streiner said.

The agency is launching a public consultation between now and Jan. 28 to help determine the answer to that and other questions.

“This is a major priority for us,” Streiner said.

The new rules would apply to future cancellations only and will not be retroactive.

Garneau said the updated regulations should be “fair and reasonable” to passengers and should not impose an undue burden on airlines “that could lead to their insolvency.”

Airline passenger refunds have emerged as a point of contention between airlines and the government, which are currently negotiating the terms of an aid package for the struggling travel sector.

The federal government has said that any aid to the sector would be contingent on giving passengers full refunds for cancelled flights.

Airlines maintain that they are not legally required to issue refunds and have criticized Ottawa for its delay in issuing more assistance to the sector.

Lukacs says he warned the government in an in-person meeting and written communications in 2019 that Canada’s protections for airline passengers were weak and could be misinterpreted by airlines to avoid issuing refunds.

Air Passenger Rights’ communications with both Transport Canada and CTA cast doubt on the government’s claim that it discovered this issue as a result of the pandemic, Lukacs said.

In response to a question about whether the government was aware of regulation gaps prior to the pandemic, Transport Canada spokeswoman Allison St-Jean didn’t answer directly. “We are encouraged by recent efforts by air carriers to provide options for cancelled flights and refunds in some cases,” she said.

The CTA said it has only now received legal authority to develop regulations requiring airlines to issue refunds if a flight is cancelled for reasons beyond the airline’s control and passengers can’t complete their itinerary within a reasonable timeframe.

Stephanie Kusie, a Conservative MP and the shadow minister for transport, said in a tweet Monday afternoon that the government’s proposal fails to address the problem of outstanding passenger refunds.

Similarly, Lukacs said the new regulations wouldn’t be of any help to those passengers who have already had their flights cancelled.

“This would provide no relief to passengers who have been shortchanged,” Lukacs said. “Regardless of what they do with the regulations, the law is already that passengers are entitled to a refund.”

Jon Victor, The Canadian Press


Like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter.

Want to support local journalism during the pandemic? Make a donation here.

AirlinesCoronavirus

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

Various Victoria locations were hit with a slew of anti-bylaw graffiti Wednesday. This image has been altered to cover up profane language. (Submitted photo)
PHOTOS: Victoria hit with slew of anti-bylaw graffiti

Downtown businesses, bylaw office and Ministry of Finance vandalized

A pedestrian pushing a child in a stroller was struck by a driver while crossing a Highway 1 off-ramp at Burnside Road West on Feb. 24. (Google Streetview)
Pedestrian with child in stroller struck by driver in Saanich crosswalk

Incident occurred in crosswalk in Highway 1 off-ramp at Burnside Road West

David Wighton is a Goldstream Gazette 2021 Local Hero as the winner of the Coaches Award. (Don Denton/Black Press Media)
Life-changing lessons shared after 55-year coaching career

David Wighton is the 2021 recipient of the Local Hero Coaches Award

West Shore RCMP headquarters in Langford. (Black Press Media file photo)
West Shore RCMP arrests two suspects in connection to View Royal arson

Investigators determined the fire was deliberately set, targeted

Visitors to Island View Beach Regional Park in Central Saanich could end up paying for parking. (Black Press Media File)
Proposed parking fees for Island View Beach under fire

Central Saanich councillor says timing could not be worse

B.C. health officer Dr. Bonnie Henry and health minister Adrian Dix wore pink shirts to showcase this year’s motto: “Lift each other up.” (Twitter/PinkShirtDay)
PHOTOS: B.C. celebs take a stand against bullying on Pink Shirt Day

‘We need to let young people know they are not alone and they can reach out to others for help’

Justin Morissette is still recovering from the injuries sustained in the altercation. He is not yet able to walk without assistance. (Justin Morissette, Twitter)
B.C. man suing city and police over violent altercation with anti-LGBTQ preacher

Justin Morissette argues police knew the threat the preacher posed, and failed to keep the peace

Mowi Canada West salmon farm in B.C. waters. Conservative MPs have backed an industry call for further discussions on the timeline for closing Discovery Island farms. (Photo supplied by Mowi Canada)
Conservative MPs back B.C. salmon farmers’ call for transparent discussions

Farm owners requested consultations, more time to leave Discovery Islands

Jack Barnes, who was Cowichan Valley Capitals property from May 2020 until last week, scores a goal for the Penticton Vees during the 2019-20 BCHL season. (Brennan Phillips/Black Press)
COVID-crunched BCHL facing trade deadline dilemma with its 20-year-olds

Hard decisions loom when BCHL may or may not resume play

A Nanaimo RCMP vehicle in the Woodgrove Centre parking lot. (News Bulletin file photo)
Woman groped by stranger in mall parking lot in Nanaimo

Incident happened near bus loop Saturday, Feb. 20, at about 4:45 p.m.

A 19-year-old man is in police custody following a recent violent robbery and assault in Comox . (File photo)
Arrest made in violent robbery and assault of Comox gas station employee

19-year-old man in police custody after incident where woman was putting things in her car

COVID cases in the Bella Coola Valley have dropped to just four active cases (file photo)
Expanding social circles fuelling North Island COVID-19 spike

Comox Valley COVID spike the result of ‘a series of multiple social gatherings’

Average response times for critical “purple” and “red” calls were between nine and 10 minutes Feb. 19 in Metro Vancouver, with only less critical “yellow” calls receiving an average response time of 45 minutes. The longer than usual delay was due to a combination of factors, BC Emergency Health Services said. (APBC image)
After a night of one-hour waits for ambulances, union goes public with concerns

B.C. Ambulance Service says high-priority calls were still 10 minutes or less

NorKam secondary student Karis Wilson in the outfit that got her sent home from school on Tuesday, Feb. 23, 2021. (Contributed to Kamloops This Week)
B.C. teen in turtleneck, lace-edged dress sent home from school for ‘inappropriate’ outfit

NorKam secondary student Karis Wilson was told the lace on the garment made it look like a slip dress

Most Read