Montreal's airport has abruptly pulled an ad campaign promoting a new company, Flight Claim, that fights for compensation for wronged passengers.
Toronto's Pearson Airport is also refusing to display the ad created by the company.
"We're just there to protect and help the rights of the passengers, so we feel it's kind of sad that we're not able to publicize in a free market," said Jacob Charbonneau, general manager of Flight Claim, based in Montreal.
Charbonneau co-founded Flight Claim with the notion that most Canadian air passengers don't know their compensation rights for things like delays, cancellations and overbooked flights.
Flight Claim offers to take on passengers' cases and fight their battle with the airline for 25 per cent of the awarded compensation. To promote the company, Flight Claim created a video ad informing air travellers they could receive up to $1,800 in compensation, and to contact the company if they want help fighting their case.
In April, Flight Claim signed a $73,000 contract to run the ad on screens in the baggage claim area at Montreal's Pierre Elliott Trudeau airport. The campaign started last week and lasted four days before the airport suddenly pulled it.
According to an email sent by the airport's advertising agency to Flight Claim, the ad was pulled because of pressure from airlines.
Montreal airport spokesperson Stéphanie Lepage says the person who wrote the email made a mistake because the airlines made no such request. Instead, this was purely an airport decision to not create trouble for the airlines.
"Passengers, but also airlines, are our customers," Lepage said. "We did not want to have a conflict between airlines and passengers."
Too confusing for passengers?
She says the airport also erred by agreeing to run the ad — a conclusion it came to on the fifth day of the campaign.
"We realized there was a mistake and we shouldn't have published this type of advertising within our terminal," she said.
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Toronto's Pearson Airport has a completely different reason for refusing to run the Flight Claim ad. It turned the company down flat — even after Charbonneau met in person with the Greater Toronto Airports Authority (GTAA) last week to plead his case.
The GTAA told CBC News it worried the ad would confuse passengers about their rights. That's because the federal government is creating new compensation guidelines in an upcoming air passenger bill of rights.
"Before enabling businesses to profit by advertising to travellers, the GTAA has a responsibility to ensure that there is clarity for its passengers about what these new rules mean," said spokesperson Natalie Moncur in an email to CBC News.
The new passenger bill of rights isn't set to come into effect until sometime in 2018. Flight Claim's Charbonneau believes Toronto airport's position actually has more to do with not wanting to upset the airlines. He argues that its decision is unfair to passengers.
"Not permitting advertising that will help passengers travelling through GTAA property know their rights for compensation is a disservice to the customer," he said.
Ad would help passengers
One customer Flight Claim has already helped is Vicky Soulière from Montreal.
Soulière and 14 other family members flew from Spain to Montreal on an Air Transat flight which was delayed for about three hours.
The passengers were unsure at the time if they were entitled to compensation. Under European law, airlines must dole out up to €600 a day to delayed passengers — depending on how long the delay and distance travelled.
After recently learning about Flight Claim, Soulière asked the company to look into her case. She won and this April, the entire party of 15 passengers each received $319 in compensation after Flight Claim took its commission.
"I was happy. It was like Christmas. Like you found some money in your coat," says Soulière.
Who has the time to make a claim?
She adds that even if she knew about the amount of compensation she was entitled to, she wouldn't have had time to take on the claim herself.
"You need to have some free time to do this," says the cardiologist and mother of two young children.
Soulière believes Flight Claim should be allowed to advertise in the Montreal and Toronto airports so that passengers can learn about another option for getting compensation.
"I think it would be a good thing," says Soulière. "People don't know what they have a right to get if they have a flight delay or a flight cancellation."
Charbonneau says he will be writing letters to both Transport Minister Marc Garneau and the Canadian Transportation Agency to lobby for the right to run his commercial in both airports.