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

Just Posted

Fruit farmers in the Okanagan and Creston valleys are in desperate need of cherry harvesters amid COVID-19 work shortages. (Photo: Unsplash/Abigail Miller)
‘Desperate’ need for workers at Okanagan cherry farms

Fruit farmers are worried they’ll have to abandon crops due to COVID-19 work shortages

A tent housing a mobile vaccination clinic. (Interior Health/Contributed)
Over 5K jabbed at Interior Health mobile COVID-19 vaccine clinics

The clinics have made stops in more than 40 communities since launching last week

Provincial Health Officer Dr. Bonnie Henry talks about B.C.’s plan to restart the province during a press conference at Legislature in Victoria, Tuesday, May 25, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Chad Hipolito
Interior Health COVID-19 cases falling slower than the rest of B.C.

More than a third of provincial cases announced Thursday came from the Interior

The Greater Vernon Chamber of Commerce will host the Valley Wide Business Expo May 4 at Predator Ridge Resort. (photo submitted)
Golf raffle helps Okanagan families score homes

Habitat for Humanity Okanagan swinging into action this summer with a new raffle

The weekly COVID-19 map for June 6 to 12. (BC CDC)
South Okanagan sees only 5 new cases in last week

The Similkameen Valley went a second week without any new cases

A small pod of Pacific white-sided dolphins pass by close to shore in Campbell River June 16, 2021. Still capture from video courtesy of Kimberly Hart
VIDEO: Dolphin sunset captured from Vancouver Island shore

Spectacular setting for view of travelling pod of Pacific white-sided dolphins

Patrick O’Brien, a 75-year-old fisherman, went missing near Port Angeles Thursday evening. (Courtesy of U.S. Coast Guard)
Search for lost fisherman near Victoria suspended, U.S. Coast Guard says

The 75-year-old man was reported missing Thursday evening

Bruce Springsteen performs at the 13th annual Stand Up For Heroes benefit concert in support of the Bob Woodruff Foundation in New York on Nov. 4, 2019. (Greg Allen/Invision/AP)
Canadians who got AstraZeneca shot can now see ‘Springsteen on Broadway’

B.C. mayor David Screech who received his second AstraZeneca dose last week can now attend the show

New research suggests wolves can be steered away from the endangered caribou herds they prey on by making the man-made trails they use to hunt harder to move along. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Nathan Denette
Culling cutlines, not B.C. wolves, key to preserving caribou herds: researcher

The government has turned to killing hundreds of wolves in an effort to keep caribou around

Gary Abbott (left) and Louis De Jaeger were two of the organizers for the 2014 Spirit of the People Powwow in Chilliwack. Monday, June 21, 2021 is Indigenous Peoples Day. (Jenna Hauck/ Chilliwack Progress file)
Unofficial holidays: Here’s what people are celebrating for the week of June 20 to 26

Indigenous Peoples Day, Take Your Dog to Work Day, Onion Rings Day all coming up this week

Gwen Spencer Hethey with her uncle and mentor Major Frederick Richardson. (Courtesy of Greater Victoria Sports Hall of Fame)
‘She was a killer’: The B.C. woman who pioneered female sharpshooting

Gwen Spencer Hethey made military men ‘look like turkeys’ says her son

Rita Coolidge played the main stage at Vancouver Island Musicfest in 2017. (Black Press file photo)
This year’s Vancouver Island MusicFest to virtually showcase beauty of Comox Valley

Returning July 9 through 11 with more than 25 hours of music performances

British Columbia’s premier says he’s received a second dose of the Oxford-AstraZeneca COVID-19 vaccine. (Twitter/John Horgan)
B.C. premier gets 2nd dose of AstraZeneca COVID-19 vaccine

John Horgan shared a photo of himself on social media Friday afternoon holding a completed vaccination card

Most Read