CTA inquiry to look at 'troubling' situation on stranded Air Transat flights

It doesn’t happen often, but less than two weeks after Air Transat passengers were stuck on the tarmac at the Ottawa airport for hours, the Canadian Transportation Agency is holding a public inquiry.

Public inquiry will be held on August 30 and 31

The Canadian Transportation Agency is holding a public inquiry at the end of August into concerns over how passengers were treated on two Air Transat flights that were stuck on the tarmac at the Macdonald–Cartier International Airport July 31, 2017. (Stephane Beaudoin/CBC)

The Canadian Transportation Agency doesn't hold public inquiries often, but the case of hundreds of Air Transat passengers being stuck on the tarmac at the Ottawa International Airport for hours was a strong enough incentive.

That's according to Scott Streiner, chair and CEO of the CTA, who told CBC Radio's Ottawa Morning the situation appeared problematic.

Passengers aboard Air Transat flights 157 from Brussels and 507 from Rome were not allowed to disembark after their transatlantic flights were redirected to Ottawa on their way to Montreal, July 31.

In addition to being stranded on the planes for several hours, passengers complained about a lack of air conditioning even as outside temperatures soared to 28 C, and they were not offered additional food or water.

Several passengers even resorted to calling 911. When paramedics arrived, the plane's doors were left open and the Ottawa International Airport Authority handed out water. Passengers were instructed to stay on the plane even after the doors were opened, according to the legal response Air Transat filed last Friday to the CTA.

'Very troubling' situation

"Everybody can agree, that the situation as it was reported was very troubling," Streiner said.

The inquiry will examine if Air Transat followed its own tariff and whether that tariff is reasonable, he said.

Scott Streiner, CEO of the Canadian Transportation Agency, says the public inquiry will examine if Air Transat followed its own rules and regulations when dealing with passengers and whether those regulations are reasonable. (CBC)

The airline's tariff — its terms of service and obligations to passengers — states that: 'If the delay occurs while onboard, the Carrier will offer drinks and snacks, where it is safe to do so. If the delay exceeds 90 minutes and if the aircraft commander permits, the Carrier will offer passengers the option of disembarking until it is time to depart.'

Whether those regulations were followed — and are reasonable — will be up to the CTA to decide. It will also determine whether passengers are entitled to compensation.

Passengers can't be compensated for pain and suffering

"If we find that the airline was in violation of its own tariff, we can order that passengers be compensated for expenses," along with ordering other corrective measures, Streiner said. But the law only applies to out-of-pocket expenses, he said.

"The legislation sets some boundaries and it does not include damages for individuals for things like pain and suffering."

But he added that the CTA can look at how far they can extend the law, if Air Transat is found in violation of its tariff.

The CTA also has no power to levy any consequences against the airport authority if it was found in the wrong.

Number of air travel complaints rising 

The number of complaints about air travel is on the rise, according to Streiner.

After the federal government eliminated the air travel complaints commissioner position, that role has been absorbed by the CTA.

"The results have been fairly dramatic. We used to have a run rate of about 70 to 80 complaints per month around air travel issues," Streiner said.

But in recent months, that number has ballooned to 400 or 500 complaints a month, he said.

Jean-Michel Gagnon is heading the investigation for the CTA, collecting information and evidence from everyone directly involved in the incident, including passengers, the airline, and the Ottawa airport.

Gagnon will then provide a summary to the CTA on August 25 and the public inquiry will be held on August 30 and 31.

Anyone directly involved in the incident can contact Jean Michel Gagnon at or at 819-635-4108 on or before August 11, 2017.