Budget: Industry Responds to Plans for Airport Upgrades, Improved Pax Rights

Justin Trudeau, Prime Minister of Canada and Chrystia Freeland, Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Finance of Canada. Image source: Twitter.

Updated March 29, 2023

The Association of Canadian Travel Agencies said Tuesday's federal budget was a letdown for travel advisors. Consumers might feel differently.

"ACTA was discouraged but not surprised by today’s federal budget as all indications leading up to the budget were that it would be an austerity budget based on the current economic environment and the massive relief expenditures during the pandemic," the association said in a statement on 28MAR, just after the Trudeau government’s budget was made public.

"ACTA is concerned that there are ongoing critical issues that affect travel agencies and travel advisors --- especially debt relief from pandemic support. ACTA will continue to lay the groundwork for debt relief and ramp up grassroots advocacy efforts at the appropriate time. "

The association said it will conduct "a thorough review of the budget in the coming days to identify any other items that are perhaps not top of mind but still could provide some relief, or opportunity."

After months and months of travel discontent across Canada, the Canadian government said it will spend $1.8 billion over five years to maintain and increase service levels, strengthen airport security measures and improve screening wait times, as well as to help the Canadian Transportation Agency (CTA) deal with a litany of complaints.

Multiple reports said the government will raise money for some of the costs of the improvements by hiking airport security fees – the first increase since 2010 - by an average of 33%. The Globe and Mail said fees for a one-way domestic flight will rise from $7.48 to $9.94, while the fee for an international flights will jump from $25.91 to $34.42; nearly nine dollars per flight.

Canadian Press reports the Trudeau government also is "proposing to strengthen the rules around compensation for Canadians whose travel plans are disrupted, and to give the CTA more authority to resolve passenger complaints." The government again has pledged to help address a serious backlog of airline complaints to the CTA.

Transport Minister Omar Alghabra recently admitted that there are some 42,000 complaints awaiting resolution right now. He announced two weeks ago that Ottawa was giving the CTA nearly $76 million over three years to deal with the backlog.

It wasn’t immediately clear if that $76 million is part of the $1.8 billion package announced in the budget.

As it stated several weeks ago, Ottawa said it plans to align Canada’s air passenger rights rules “with those of leading international approaches, and ensure tat Canadians are fairly compensated for travel delays that are within airlines’ control.”

Of course, what constitutes a delay within an airlines control is often at the nub of consumer complaints.

The Globe and Mail reports the government wants to give the Transport Minister the authority to impose a charge on airlines to help cover costs of resolving complaints.

"We are encouraged by the practical, incremental policy steps taken in the 2023 federal budget to assist our sector and improve the passenger journey," The Canadian Airports Council said in a budget reaction statement.

"The positive budget measures include more screening resources for CATSA, plans to amend the Customs Act to modernize travelers’ experience at the border, and proposed amendments to the Canada Transportation Act for data sharing and reporting.

"Airports across the country welcome these new measures — they underline our vital role in the economy and will make a tangible, positive impact on the journey ahead. However, there is still more work ahead to get airports fully down the runway to recovery,'' the council stated.

The Hotel Association of Canada said it was “pleased to see investments for tourism and hospitality, totalling $172 million. This is the largest investment made by a Canadian government in any previous growth strategy, and an important step towards our rebuild."

The association said Ottawa will provide $50 million over three years to help Destination Canada attract major international conferences and events, and a cash stimulus fund of $108M over 3 years to support regional tourism product.

The investment in airport screening and other airport improvements “also is very good news,” it said.

The Tourism Industry Association of Ontario said another highlight is that "eligibility for the Electronic Travel Authorization Program to low-risk, trusted travellers will be expanded to include more countries, which will be announced in the coming weeks."

Jim Byers

Jim Byers is a freelance travel writer based in Toronto. He was formerly travel editor at the Toronto Star and now writes for a variety of publications in Canada and around the world. He's also a regular guest on CBC, CTV News, Global News and other television and radio networks.

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