On 14MAR, Transport Minister Omar Alghabra announced, as Open Jaw reported, that the government was providing the CTA $76 million over three years to hire 200 new workers - solely for the purposes of allowing the agency to clear the backlog of airline passenger complaints that’s been accumulating since summer of 2022.
The news comes this month as the CTA’s own internal surveys show Canadian travellers have a “growing level of dissatisfaction with the time it takes to resolve complaints,” according to the CBC, which obtained copies of four of the CTA’s internal “client satisfaction surveys” through an access to information request.
Over 70 per cent of surveyed pax were dissatisfied or very dissatisfied with the time it took the CTA to resolve their complaints against airlines. That compares with 2019 figures indicating only a quarter of pax were equally unhappy with the process.
Critics blame not only the length of time, but the “onerous” process that requires lengthy paperwork on the part of pax - many of whom abandon the process without resolution or compensation they may be entitled to.
Meanwhile, the CBC says that the number of pax complaints filed with the CTA has ballooned by 10,000 just since the recent winter holiday travel meltdown.
And Global News reports that the number of complaints has “tripled over the past year.”
As Open Jaw reported, the minister of transport himself acknowledged during the funding announcement that the backlog has grown to over 42,000 this month. According to Global News, that means cases filed today will take a whopping year and a half to resolve.
Will the latest funding for the CTA make a dent in the problem? Or is the system just broken? Critics say it is.
The federal NDP’s transport critic isn’t waiting to find out. Taylor Bachrach is tabling a private member’s bill that, as Canadian Aviation News reports, will:
- close loopholes for the airlines to blame safety issues for delays or cancellations;
- shift the burden of proof to the airlines, not consumers;
- increase fines and
- make pax compensation automatic for delayed or cancelled flights.
“Canadians have weathered two busy travel seasons marred by chronic flight delays and cancellations, while Canada’s weak passenger protections have largely let airlines off the hook,” said Bachrach. “When Canadians’ flights are delayed, their compensation shouldn’t be. But people are having to wait more than 18 months for the government to hear their complaints, let alone deliver compensation.”
"We don't really need new laws. We need to enforce the laws that we have," Matt Malone, a law professor who filed the access to information request about the CTA surveys and provided the results to the CBC, told the media outlet.
"I think the survey numbers capture that Canadians have lost faith in the agency," he said.
As Global News points out, the CTA is awarding compensation to pax and actually fining airlines for transgressions, but the fines represent a drop in the bucket compared to revenues - hardly enough, say critics, to deter airlines from breaking the rules.
The total fines issued to airlines and airports over the last year tallied up to just over $645,000. That’s more than double the previous year’s fines and over 10 times the fines issued in 2020-2021. But the report says even the latest - highest - figures represent less than half of one per cent of Air Canada’s nearly $17 billion in revenue, for example.
Furthermore, the report says the CTA has “never fined an airline for violations around passenger compensation.”
The “dearth of fines speaks to the agency’s disregard for enforcement,” it says critics claim.
Whether or not Bachrach’s private member’s bill gains any traction, as Open Jaw reported, the Transport Minister himself is promising changes too, “soon.”
Omar Alghabra said the government would be “tabling new rules this spring” tackling the “asymmetry of power” that airlines have over passengers in the complaints process.
He said that upcoming new rules would create “incentives” for airlines to deal with complaints themselves, rather than “defer” to the CTA, with “disincentives” for an airline to wait for the complaint to make its way through the CTA process.
"It is clear that the burden of proof must be on the airlines and not on the passengers. That's exactly what we're going to do," a spokesperson for the transport minister told CBC in a statement, that added new rules would be coming in “months.”
That may not be anywhere soon enough for pax already waiting a year and a half for compensation.