Class action lawsuit accuses Calgary airport of misleading passengers over improvement fees
Portion of fees are unjustly given to airlines or spent improving a secondary airport, suit claims
A class action lawsuit has been filed against the Calgary Airport Authority for allegedly giving a portion of its airport improvement fees to airlines and spending on improvements at a smaller, nearby airport, without notifying flyers of what their fees are being used for.
The airport started charging improvement fees in 1997. It currently has one of the highest fees in the country at $30 for passengers departing from Calgary (Edmonton charges $30, Halifax charges $28, and Toronto charges $25).
Passengers are exempt from paying the fee if they have only a short stopover before a connecting flight — 24 hours for international passengers, or four hours for domestic.
In 2017, the lawsuit states, it came to the public's attention after a CBC News investigation was published that airlines are receiving a portion of the fees that are meant to go toward improving the airport.
About $1.20, or four per cent, of the fee from every ticket goes toward airlines, documents shared by the group Air Passenger Rights found.
The lawsuit says that's not disclosed to flyers.
"The name of these fees is mischaracterized by calling them airport improvement fees, rather than what they really are, airport facility charges or, in the alternative, a direct tax levied on air travellers," states the class action lawsuit, which was filed Tuesday in Calgary.
It accuses the airport authority of "negligently" misrepresenting or "fraudulently" concealing the purpose of the fees.
The airport authority, which manages both the Calgary International Airport and Springbank Airport, also uses a portion of the improvement fees to improve Springbank — a smaller airport west of the city that does not charge improvement fees.
Domestic passengers pay, stopovers benefit
The suit also expresses concerns that domestic passengers pay the majority of the improvement fees, yet a recent major expansion at the airport focused primarily on building a new international terminal.
"The Calgary Airport Authority … are a board of directors with little accountability and lacking in transparency, which enables them to implement payment schemes as they deem fit," the class action reads.
"It is now Calgarians and those visiting Calgary that are left holding the bag from the Calgary Airport Authority's expansion."
The representative plaintiff, Calgarian Herjinder Singh Seran, who filed the suit on behalf of all passengers who have flown out of the Calgary airport and paid the improvement fee, is seeking:
- A judgment "estimated to be not less than $100 million" for portions of the fees used for purposes other than improving the Calgary airport.
- An order instructing the airport not to use improvement fees on the Springbank Airport.
- An order instructing the airport to not pay airport improvement fees to airlines.
- A declaration that forgoing those orders constitutes an indirect tax.
- A direction that airport improvement fees be levied on all fliers, including those who are currently exempt.
- The appointment of an inspector to review the airport's conduct in respect to the collection and use of airport improvement fees.
The Calgary Airport Authority is a non-profit incorporated under the Regional Airports Authorities Act of Alberta.
Its website says the improvement fee is not a tax and is dedicated to infrastructure improvements and expansion of the airport.
The airport authority told CBC it has yet to be served with the claim and is therefore not in a position to respond.
None of the claims has been proven in a court of law.