A Newfoundland man who's been pushing for an airline passenger bill of rights for years is cautiously optimistic about federal legislation introduced this week.

'It's got to have substantial teeth in it that's going to be meaningful.' - Woody French

Transport Minister Marc Garneau introduced proposed changes to the Transportation Act Tuesday that include enhanced rights for airline passengers — including not being bumped against their will. 

Woody French, a former mayor of Newfoundland's Conception Bay South, has been advocating for such changes since 2008. He argues that Canada needs to catch up to Europe when it comes to protecting air travellers.

Former C.B.S. mayor Woody French

Former C.B.S. mayor Woody French has been advocating since 2008 for an airline passenger bill of rights in Canada. (CBC)

French applauded Garneau for spearheading the new legislation, which came after a United Airlines passenger was physically dragged from an overbooked flight in the United States.

But he said the effectiveness of a bill of rights will depend on how clearly the rules are outlined and enforced.

"The proof will be in the pudding. It's got to have substantial teeth in it that's going to be meaningful, he told CBC News.

"How are we going to raise our concerns, and what's going to happen? Do we go to the airline? Is the airline being given much wiggle room with regards to what they can do?"

French said previous rules introduced by the Harper government did little to actually protect passengers as it left it up to airlines to self-regulate, which he says didn't work.

Europe the 'gold standard'

He called the European air passenger bill the "gold standard," and said Canadian legislation should be equal or better to what is in place there. 

European rules work, he said, because they outline what rights people have — and more importantly lays out clearly how airlines are held accountable if they violate those rights.

people with luggage at airport suitcases

Some supporters of a Canadian air passengers bill of rights say the country should look to Europe as an example when it comes to the new legislation. (CBC)

That includes compensation for passengers who don't get to their destination, as well as what exactly what airlines will have to provide in the case of a passenger not being treated fairly. 

He said if major airlines in Europe are successful despite those requirements, there's no reason stricter rules can't work in Canada.

"British Airways is still flying, Air France is still flying and Lufthansa is still flying,"he said.

"I don't think there's any burden that's going to be put on the airlines anymore than what's going to be put on there now. Now they're just going to be held accountable to provide a level of service standard that they should be willing to meet to ensure that airline passengers have the best flight that they can possibly have."

With files from Debbie Cooper