Experts are calling on the agency responsible for enforcing air passenger protection rules to be more aggressive with fines when airlines get caught with the regulations.
The quasi-judicial Canadian Transportation Agency (CTA) has the ability to fine airlines up to $25,000 if they fail to comply with air passenger protection regulations that came into force in 2019. These rules require an airline to compensate passengers for lost baggage or lost flights. delays and cancellations within the airline’s control.
But earlier this month, the head of the CTA told the House Transportation Committee that the agency has not levied a single fine for failing to compensate passengers.
Tom Oommen, general manager of the CTA’s analytics and information branch, said that instead of fining airlines, the agency has focused on addressing passenger complaints.
“Resolving passenger complaints puts compensation, refunds and claims in the pockets of passengers,” Oommen told the CBC. “Our enforcement regime doesn’t do that. Fines don’t go to passengers.”
But the agency is grappling with more than 30,000 pending complaints from passengers who believe they have not been properly compensated.
Ian Jack, a spokesman for the Canadian Automobile Association (CAA), a not-for-profit travel agency, said the backlogs offer airlines an incentive to challenge passengers’ claims for compensation.
“When it takes that long to make a decision, it sends a signal to the airlines that they don’t necessarily need to get things right today. They can afford to wait,” Jack said.
Jack said the CTA should use fines to force airlines to comply with compensation rules. John Gradek, professor of aviation management at McGill University, agrees.
“They’re not going to play games because they know once they start playing games, they’re going to get slapped pretty hard with fines,” Gradek said.
The CTA issued some fines for 2019 violations — about two dozen totaling $171,400. Oommen said the CTA issued few fines in part because the 2019 rules are relatively new.
According to the penalties listed on the ČTA website, most of these fines were for incorrectly displaying certain fees when a passenger purchased a ticket or for incorrectly displaying information about compensation rules.
Airlines have been fined several times for failing to provide passengers with food or drink during long flight delays, for providing insufficient information about flight delays or cancellations, and for failing to respond to passenger requests for compensation within the required 30-day period. .
Some airlines have been fined up to $200 for individual violations.
Oommen said the CTA uses a tiered approach to enforceable violations — small fines are issued for first violations that double for subsequent violations.
Gradek said the agency should impose maximum fines of $25,000 to ensure airlines comply. He said the fines the CTA has handed out so far have amounted to “a slap on the wrist… a mosquito bite.”
“Nobody’s paying attention,” he said.
But Jack said the government should consider changing the rules to allow the CTA to issue even higher fines.
“The CTA right now doesn’t have any big sticks to threaten people with. It has a lot of little twigs,” he said.
Earlier this month, Transport Minister Omar Alghabra said he was working to strengthen regulations to protect air travelers in response to travel chaos over the holiday season. The CBC asked his office if that could include giving the CTA the ability to impose higher fines.
“All options are on the table to ensure that what happened over the holidays with Sunwing does not happen again,” his office said in a statement.
NDP traffic critic Taylor Bachrach said he would support higher fines.
“We need to take a serious look at the way fines are used and whether the maximum fines are adequate to act as a deterrent,” he said.
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