Backlog of air passenger complaints still rising but may be peaking, enforcement agency says
Canadian Transportation Agency has seen a spike in the number of complaints following a hectic summer
The backlog of complaints to the Canadian Transportation Agency related to delayed or cancelled flights or lost luggage has ballooned to more than 30,000 — up from 18,000 this summer — but the number may have peaked.
The Canadian Transportation Agency (CTA) — a quasi-judicial tribunal and regulator tasked with settling disputes between airlines and customers — has been dealing with a massive number of air passenger complaints since new regulations came into force in 2019 that require an airline to compensate passengers when a flight is delayed or cancelled for a reason that is within the airline's control.
The number of complaints began to spike earlier this year as a hectic summer travel season — driven in part by a rise in air travel following the pandemic slump — resulted in an increasing number of customers claiming airlines were skirting federal compensation rules.
Michelle Greenshields, head of the dispute resolution branch at the CTA, told a committee of MPs on Monday that the number of complaints may have peaked.
"We've witnessed a big jump in complaints which has only recently started to slow down," Greenshilds told the House of Commons transport committee.
Last week, the CTA told CBC News that the agency has received more than 19,000 complaints since April. That's over 7,000 more than the roughly 12,000 complaints the agency received in all of last year.
Speaking at a press conference on Monday, Transport Minister Omar Alghabra said some air passengers had to deal with "unacceptable situations" during the summer. He said the government is working with the CTA to address the "unprecedented" backlog.
"I will acknowledge that this is a lot more than any of us had ever seen before," he said.
The government has allocated funding to the CTA in recent years — including $11 million in April's budget — to address the backlog.
But Alghabra said the government needs to start looking beyond throwing money at the problem.
"We're looking at not only what other resources [we can provide] but are there processes that we can streamline to make it more efficient so it takes less time," he said.
Greenshields told the transport committee it can take up to 18 months to process a complaint. She said CTA continually looks for ways to process complaints more quickly — such as "batching" complaints from the same flight to resolve multiple issues at once.
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The committee, which is studying ways to improve protections for air passengers, also heard from Jeff Morrison, president of the National Airlines Council of Canada.
Morrison argued that accountability in the air travel industry should be shared so that responsibility isn't laid entirely on airlines.
"Airlines don't operate in isolation," Morrison told the committee, adding air carriers rely on airports and navigation service providers to ensure passengers arrive on time.
Morrison said any improvements to air passenger protections should focus on improving service standards across the industry.