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There has been a colossal spike in airline passengers’ complaints to the Canadian Transportation Agency (CTA) after what Chair Scott Streiner calls “modest public information efforts” to clarify passenger rights and carrier obligations.
“The numbers tell the story,” said Streiner during an appearance before the Standing Senate Committee on Transportation and Communications, which is studying the government’s bill C-49, draft amendments to the Canadian Transportation Act and other statutes. A passenger bill of rights is part of the package.
He explained that in 2013, 2014 and 2015, the CTA received 700-800 complaints annually. The monthly tally began to balloon after its information initiative in late 2016. “This month alone, in January 2018, we have received close to 700 complaints.”
The CTA subsequently provided Skies with what it described as still “unofficial” monthly numbers, which put the January total at 713. The increase from 437 in December probably reflects high-volume year-end traffic. The same pattern showed in January 2017, when 594 complaints then compared with 466 in December 2016.
Except for occasional month-to-month dips in the past couple of years, the trend has been generally upward as more passengers become aware of how to vent their spleen and seek redress. “Since September 2016, we’ve increased our outreach efforts through social media, we have been engaging in more stakeholder events, we’ve been using some targeted advertising particularly during travel season, and we’ve been engaging more with the media,” the CTA explained in an email.
“We also published a Fly Smart guide and produced short, factual videos informing air travellers about their rights and responsibilities, and those of the airlines. These videos are running on our website, Facebook page, YouTube channel, and screens in some Canadian airports. . . . Canadians’ response to these public information efforts suggests that there was a need that had not previously been met, simply because they were not aware of the recourse available.”
The CTA suggested that it prefers passengers to try to resolve complaints directly with carriers, but made it clear that its upgraded online form makes it “quicker and easier to file a complaint for travel within, to or from Canada.”
It also said that “if and when” C-49 becomes law, the CTA plans “to seek public and stakeholder input” which would help to shape the regulations which affect the industry.
At the Senate committee hearing, Streiner said three months of consultations would begin just three days after the bill clears Parliament and once done, “we will move quickly to finalize effective and balanced passenger protection regulations” and “will work to make sure that Canadians are aware of them.”