Passenger bill of rights will set national standard for air travel

The Trudeau government introduced legislation for a passenger bill of rights Tuesday, a move that will set a national standard for how airline passengers are treated in Canada.

Legislation for air travellers part of minister Marc Garneau's overhaul of transport regulations

Transport Minister Marc Garneau tabled legislation Tuesday to modernize the Transportation Act, including a passenger bill of rights. (Sean Kilpatrick/Canadian Press)

The Trudeau government introduced legislation for a passenger bill of rights Tuesday, in a move that will set a national standard for how airline passengers are treated in Canada.

The goal of a passenger bill of rights is to make sure travellers know what they are entitled to expect in terms of service or compensation should their travel arrangements be disrupted by events within the airline's control.

Similar legislation has been in place in the U.S. since 2002 and in Europe since 2005. The federal government hopes to have its passenger protection regime in place by 2018.

The legislation introduced Tuesday includes measures to prevent airlines from charging parents for the privilege of sitting next to their young children. The bill also requires carriers to have standards for transporting musical instruments.

Railways would be required to install voice and video recorders in locomotives.

The moves are part of a larger package of changes Transport Minister Marc Garneau is introducing to modernize Canada's transportation laws to make them more efficient.  

Garneau set out his plan in a speech in Montreal in November, when he said he would introduce a regime to ensure Canadians' rights are protected by rules that are both fair and clear.

The passenger bill of rights would set a standard across the country that airlines would have to follow.

Right now, when passengers have a complaint with an airline they can either take it up with the airline themselves or file an official complaint through the Canadian Transportation Agency.

The agency's website says that it can help resolve complaints about air travel within, to and from Canada, whether the traveller is Canadian or not.

Common complaints include delays, cancellations, missed connections, lost or damaged luggage and getting bumped due to overbooking.

The CTA will not help passengers with customer service issues, loyalty programs, unfair competitive practices, issues with travel agents or security, safety or noise issues.

Garneau told airlines operating in Canada that he did not want to see another incident like what happened to a United Airlines passenger who was injured when he was dragged off a flight in Chicago.

The legislation lays out more rules for the industry to follow, spelling out in clear language that no one can be involuntarily removed from a plane due to overbooking.

Complaints process

Once a complaint has been filed, the CTA gives the airline 30 days to respond. If the dispute has not been resolved the agency will try to reach a resolution through mediation or a quasi-legal process called adjudication.

"The legislation must provide a clear set of standards for the airlines to follow, so that Canadians can easily understand their rights and how to claim them," Jeff Walker, vice-president of public affairs at the Canadian Automobile Association, said in a statement Monday.

The CAA has been advocating for a passenger bill of rights for some time. It says that leaving Canadians to battle it out with airlines or being subject to the "needlessly complex complaint process through the Canadian Transportation Agency" is unfair.

NDP MP Brian Masse said he expects passenger protections to have teeth.

"It's about time, though, that right now that we have consumers, when we fix this, so they get reimbursement when necessary or compensation," he said. "And [that the bill of rights] looks at doing so in a fair, equitable way and [is] returned rather quickly, rather than waiting months on end to go through ... a court process."

The legislation also increases the cap on foreign ownership of airlines to 49 per cent from 25 per cent. Garneau already made exceptions to this rule for some new, ultra-low-cost airlines trying to establish in Canada and the legislation will change it for all airlines, except for specialty air services such as fire fighting and heli-logging.

Under the new rules, single investors will not be allowed to hold more than 25 per cent of voting interests in a single carrier and no combination of international carriers can own more than 25 per cent, either alone or as part of an affiliation.

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With files from The Canadian Press


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