Flair Air liable for passenger rights, not ticket reseller NewLeaf, judge says

Customers with the flight reseller, NewLeaf, now know exactly who to complain to if things go wrong.

Airline operator Flair Air has the liability for flights sold through NewLeaf

NewLeaf has its headquarters at James Armstrong Richardson International Airport in Winnipeg. It sells tickets for flights that are operated by Flair Air. (Angela Johnston/CBC)

Customers of airline ticket reseller NewLeaf now know exactly who to complain to if things go wrong. 

Until now, it had been somewhat confusing as to which company — NewLeaf or airline Flair Air — was responsible for ensuring passenger rights are protected, said Gabor Lukacs, an air passenger rights advocate and appellant.

In June, Lukacs launched an appeal of a March 29, 2016, Canadian Transportation Agency decision, claiming the CTA lacked the jurisdiction to interpret licensing requirements for resellers like NewLeaf. But the ultimate purpose of the appeal, he said, was to nail down exactly who was liable for passenger rights.

On Dec. 15, Federal Court Judge Eleanor R. Dawson dismissed Lukacs's appeal, but in her reasoning pointed to airline Flair Air as the responsible party for passenger rights. Lukacs said he was satisfied with the outcome, even though he didn't win the case.

"There has been a very significant concern here," said Lukacs, a mathematician who has been fighting for air passenger rights since 2008. 

"What the judgment does is clarifies that it doesn't matter who's selling the ticket — whether Flair is selling directly to the public or through New Leaf, Flair is on the hook," he said.

"That's a game-changer," Lukacs said. "Ultimately it's Flair that's stuck with the liability."

Jim Young, CEO of NewLeaf Travel Company, said he was happy with the appeal's dismissal. He said Flair Air and NewLeaf had already been operating under the agreement that the airline was ultimately responsible for ensuring passenger rights. 

"In fact, the tariff that we had published is still the tariff today. We've made no changes to it," Young said. 

Tariffs are the agreements between passengers and airlines that lay out rights and responsibilities. The Canadian Transportation Agency recommends airline passengers treat tariffs like a contract, and that they understand the terms and conditions spelled out in them.

Young said if passengers run into an issue such as a flight cancellation or lost baggage, they should first contact his company, NewLeaf, to resolve the issue. Young said the first response is referring passengers to the tariff.

"We operate on behalf of Flair as the passenger reservation system," he said. "We accommodate them based on the terms and conditions in the tariff."

Passengers who are not happy with NewLeaf's response can still file a formal complaint with the Canadian Transportation Agency, but they would do so naming Flair, the airline operator.

Flair Air owner Jim Rogers confirmed his company is ultimately responsible for meeting the tariff agreement with passengers.

He said his company is "pleased to accept the decision as per our tariff."