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Court rejects move to put passenger rights rules on hold

The Federal Court of Appeal has dismissed an attempt by airlines to suspend the country's new passenger rights charter until an appeal of the regulations is heard.

Airlines attempted to suspend Canada's new passenger rights charter until after an appeal

Passengers aboard an Air Transat flight in September 2019 passengers said they sat inside a plane for 6 hours with little or no food and air conditioning as their aircraft sat on a hot tarmac at a Rome airport. A 2017 incident with another Air Transat delay helped bring about a new passengers' bill of rights. (Submitted by Franca Collia)

The Federal Court of Appeal has dismissed an attempt by airlines to suspend the country's new passenger rights charter until an appeal of the regulations is heard.

A judge turned down a motion by Air Canada, Porter Airlines Inc. and 14 other carriers to freeze the traveller protections while the appeal is being dealt with.

Justice David Near said Tuesday that the appellants did not show on a balance of probabilities that the rules would cause irreparable harm.

Tabled in May 2017, the passenger bill of rights aims to beef up compensation for travellers subjected to delayed flights and damaged luggage.

The issue again came to the forefront after a 2017 incident in which two Montreal-bound Air Transat jets were diverted to Ottawa because of bad weather and were held on the tarmac for up to six hours, leading some passengers to call 911.

While some travellers and advocates say the rules allow for loopholes, the appellants argue the regulations exceed the Canadian Transportation Agency's authority and contravene the Montreal Convention, a multilateral treaty.

AirHelp, a Berlin-based passenger rights company, has said the exemptions for weather or mechanical malfunctions don't encourage airlines to avoid "so-called undiscovered issues" and allows them to sidestep compensation by pointing to malfunctions on the tarmac.

Complaints up 800%

Other consumer rights advocates say getting monetary compensation is tough because it requires passengers to present evidence that is in the hands of the airline.

The rules rely on travellers filing complaints with airlines or, as a last resort, the Canadian Transportation Agency.

New complaints to the transportation watchdog have risen more than 800 per cent over the past four years, hitting 7,650 in 2018-19.

Agency chair Scott Streiner has said he is satisfied with the airlines' overall efforts to comply with the first wave of rules and expected the same in the 2020.

A traveller checks in at the Ottawa Airport on May 16, 2017. A Federal Court of Appeal has dismissed an attempt by airlines to suspend the new rights charter until an appeal is heard. (Justin Tang/The Canadian Press)

The federal appeal court also granted a motion by passenger rights advocate Gabor Lukacs to intervene in the case.

"The proposed intervener would defend the interests of airline passengers in a way that the parties cannot…and that the proposed intervention would be of assistance to the court in deciding the appeal," the judge wrote.

"I am very pleased by the court's ruling," Lukacs said. "This is a very significant judicial recognition of the work that we have been doing for the past 12 years."

The new rules allow passengers to be compensated up to $2,400 if they are bumped from a flight and receive up to $2,100 for lost or damaged luggage.

Compensation of up to $1,000 for delays and other payments for cancelled flights took effect on Dec. 15.

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