Federal government announces $75.9 million to tackle air passenger complaints backlog

The Liberal government announced $75.9 million in additional funding over three years to help tackle the growing backlog of passenger complaints that continue to pile up as the airline industry builds back from the pandemic.

Travel chaos over holiday season saw additional 10,000 complaints filed with CTA

A sign shows a list of flights.
A screen shows cancelled and delayed flights at the Ottawa International Airport on Dec. 23, 2022. (Francis Ferland/CBC)

The Liberal government announced $75.9 million in additional funding over three years to help tackle the growing backlog of passenger complaints that continue to pile up as the airline industry builds back from the pandemic.

Canadian Transport Agency (CTA) officials told a parliamentary committee in November that the backlog of complaints related to delayed, cancelled flights or lost luggage had ballooned to more than 30,000 — up from 18,000 the previous summer.

Since this past holiday season's travel chaos, the CTA — the agency tasked with enforcing rules requiring airlines to compensate passengers when a flight is delayed or cancelled for reasons within the airline's control — has received more than 10,000 additional complaints.

WATCH | Minister: 'We want to do everything we can' to improve airline complaint process

Transport minister: 'We want to do everything we can' to improve airline complaint process

7 days ago
Duration 8:47
Minister of Transport Omar Alghabra discusses newly announced funding aimed at tackling the growing backlog of airline complaints.

"Travellers have rights, and these rights must be respected by airlines," Transport Minister Omar Alghabra said in a statement on Tuesday. 

"Today's announcement helps give the agency more resources to deal with complaints and ensure the rules are respected," he said. 

Alghabra said that his most recent information suggests the number of complaints awaiting resolution has risen to 42,000.

He said the chaotic return to the airways after the COVID-19 pandemic led to an unprecedented "avalanche of complaints" that are still working their way through the system.

Alghabra said that the nearly $76 million in new money is equal to about 70 per cent of the CTA's current budget for dealing with air passenger complaints.

In a statement, the federal government explained that the new funding will allow the agency to hire more employees to deal with the backlog of complaints. 

New measures coming

Alghabra said the Liberal government is also working on significant reforms to the Air Passenger Protection Regulations, which he said will ensure passenger rights are even more protected going forward by giving the CTA "additional authorities."

The minister provided only broad details of what those additional authorities will look like, saying he would like to see more responsibility placed on airlines to compensate passengers before they file complaints to the CTA.

To that end, Alghabra said the new measures would incentivize airlines to handle complaints themselves, rather than forward them on to the CTA.

He also said the new measures would allow for the existing backlog to be cleared more quickly. The new rules, he said, would be tabled in the spring.

Growing dissatisfaction, ballooning complaints

CBC News reported on Saturday that internal surveys conducted by the CTA show a growing level of dissatisfaction with the time it takes to resolve complaints.

Since rules governing passenger rights came into force in 2019, the agency has been flooded with thousands of complaints from passengers who claim airlines have denied them compensation.

A photograph of Travellers waiting in a long line at Toronto Pearson International Airport for March break 2023.
Travellers are shown at Toronto's Pearson International Airport on Friday. The Greater Toronto Airports Authority was expecting as many as 125,000 passengers to travel through Pearson per day over the March break weekend. (Alex Lupul/CBC)

Through an access to information request, CBC News obtained CTA client satisfaction surveys showing that in 2019, 25 per cent of passengers were either dissatisfied or very dissatisfied with the time it took for the agency to process their complaint. That number jumped to 71 per cent in the 2022 survey.

Roughly 20 per cent of respondents to the three surveys between 2019 and 2021 said they were dissatisfied with the quality of service they received from the agency. Seventy-two per cent of respondents told the 2021 survey they had a good experience overall with the agency.

But the lengthy wait times appear to be having an impact on those favourable reviews. Just over half —  53 per cent — told the 2022 survey they weren't happy with their overall experience.

NDP MP Taylor Bachrach, the party's transport critic, said he wants the compensation program changed to allow for "automatic compensation" when someone's flight is disrupted. 

"More funding alone isn't going to solve the problem. After two travel seasons marred by airline disruptions, It's time for the minister to stand up for air passengers," he said in a statement.


Peter Zimonjic

Senior writer

Peter Zimonjic is a senior writer for CBC News. He has worked as a reporter and columnist in London, England, for the Daily Mail, Sunday Times and Daily Telegraph and in Canada for Sun Media and the Ottawa Citizen. He is the author of Into The Darkness: An Account of 7/7, published by Random House.

With files from the CBC's Darren Major


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