Minister of Transport Marc Garneau responds to a question during Question Period in the House of Commons in Ottawa, Tuesday, Nov. 3, 2020. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Adrian Wyld

Minister of Transport Marc Garneau responds to a question during Question Period in the House of Commons in Ottawa, Tuesday, Nov. 3, 2020. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Adrian Wyld

Airline watchdog ordered to develop new rules for flight cancellation refunds

At least 3.9 million passengers have been affected by cancelled flights due to COVID-19

The federal government is directing the Canadian Transportation Agency to strengthen rules that require airlines to refund passengers for cancelled flights.

In a statement Monday, Federal Transport Minister Marc Garneau said the pandemic has highlighted a gap in Canada’s protections for airline passengers, which weren’t designed to cover such lengthy delays.

“In the event of a future situation that causes similar large-scale flight cancellations, this gap needs to be closed so that travellers are treated fairly,” Garneau said.

Existing CTA rules don’t require airlines to offer refunds if they can get passengers to the destination within a reasonable time period — for example, offering a next-day flight if a snowstorm grounds planes. But passenger advocates say that doesn’t work for the indefinite delays ticket-holders currently face and are lobbying the government to mandate that airlines issue cash refunds, rather than travel vouchers, for flights that were cancelled due to COVID-19.

At least 3.9 million passengers have been affected by cancelled flights due to COVID-19, according to Gabor Lukacs, the founder of Air Passenger Rights, one of the groups advocating for airlines to issue refunds.

Scott Streiner, chair and chief executive officer of the CTA, said the agency’s goal is to have the new regulations in place by next summer.

One of the biggest details to be worked out between now and then include how long customers have to wait after a cancelled flight before they are entitled to a refund, Streiner said.

The agency is launching a public consultation between now and Jan. 28 to help determine the answer to that and other questions.

“This is a major priority for us,” Streiner said.

The new rules would apply to future cancellations only and will not be retroactive.

Garneau said the updated regulations should be “fair and reasonable” to passengers and should not impose an undue burden on airlines “that could lead to their insolvency.”

Airline passenger refunds have emerged as a point of contention between airlines and the government, which are currently negotiating the terms of an aid package for the struggling travel sector.

The federal government has said that any aid to the sector would be contingent on giving passengers full refunds for cancelled flights.

Airlines maintain that they are not legally required to issue refunds and have criticized Ottawa for its delay in issuing more assistance to the sector.

Lukacs says he warned the government in an in-person meeting and written communications in 2019 that Canada’s protections for airline passengers were weak and could be misinterpreted by airlines to avoid issuing refunds.

Air Passenger Rights’ communications with both Transport Canada and CTA cast doubt on the government’s claim that it discovered this issue as a result of the pandemic, Lukacs said.

In response to a question about whether the government was aware of regulation gaps prior to the pandemic, Transport Canada spokeswoman Allison St-Jean didn’t answer directly. “We are encouraged by recent efforts by air carriers to provide options for cancelled flights and refunds in some cases,” she said.

The CTA said it has only now received legal authority to develop regulations requiring airlines to issue refunds if a flight is cancelled for reasons beyond the airline’s control and passengers can’t complete their itinerary within a reasonable timeframe.

Stephanie Kusie, a Conservative MP and the shadow minister for transport, said in a tweet Monday afternoon that the government’s proposal fails to address the problem of outstanding passenger refunds.

Similarly, Lukacs said the new regulations wouldn’t be of any help to those passengers who have already had their flights cancelled.

“This would provide no relief to passengers who have been shortchanged,” Lukacs said. “Regardless of what they do with the regulations, the law is already that passengers are entitled to a refund.”

Jon Victor, The Canadian Press


Like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter.

Want to support local journalism during the pandemic? Make a donation here.

AirlinesCoronavirus

Just Posted

The Government of Alberta identified 115 new COVID-19 cases Sunday, bringing the provincial total to 3,089.
(Black Press file photo)
Alberta reports 100 new cases of COVID-19

The Central zone sits at 218 active cases

The Government of Alberta identified 115 new COVID-19 cases Sunday, bringing the provincial total to 3,089.
(Black Press file photo)
Red Deer drops to 71 active cases of COVID-19

Province adds 127 new cases of the virus

Police officers and their dogs undergo training at the RCMP Police Dog Services training centre in Innisfail, Alta., on Wednesday, July 15, 2015. Mounties say they are searching for an armed and dangerous man near a provincial park in northern Alberta who is believed to have shot and killed a service dog during a police chase. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jeff McIntosh
RCMP search for armed man in northern Alberta after police dog shot and killed

Cpl. Deanna Fontaine says a police service dog named Jago was shot during the pursuit

Alberta now has 2,336 active cases of COVID-19, with 237 people in hospital, including 58 in intensive care. (Black Press file photo)
Red Deer down to 73 active cases of COVID-19, lowest since early November

The Central zone has 253 active cases of the virus

Marco Mendicino, Minister of Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship during a press conference in Ottawa on Thursday, May 13, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Sean Kilpatrick
Canada to welcome 45,000 refugees this year, says immigration minister

Canada plans to increase persons admitted from 23,500 to 45,000 and expedite permanent residency applications

FILE – Most lanes remain closed at the Peace Arch border crossing into the U.S. from Canada, where the shared border has been closed for nonessential travel in an effort to prevent the spread of the coronavirus, Thursday, May 7, 2020, in Blaine, Wash. The restrictions at the border took effect March 21, while allowing trade and other travel deemed essential to continue. (AP Photo/Elaine Thompson)
Feds to issue update on border measures for fully vaccinated Canadians, permanent residents

Border with U.S. to remain closed to most until at least July 21

Blair Lebsack, owner of RGE RD restaurant, poses for a portrait in the dining room, in Edmonton, Friday, June 18, 2021. Canadian restaurants are having to find ways to deal with the rising cost of food. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jason Franson
Canadian restaurateurs grapple with rising food costs, menu prices expected to rise

Restaurants are a low margin industry, so there’s not a lot of room to work in additional costs

Orange shirts, shoes, flowers and messages are displayed on the steps outside the legislature in Victoria, B.C., on Tuesday, June 8, 2021 following a ceremony hosted by the Songhees and Esquimalt First Nations in honour of the 215 residential school children whose remains have been discovered buried near the facility in Kamloops, B.C. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Chad Hipolito
Alberta city cancels Canada Day fireworks at site of former residential school

City of St. Albert says that the are where the display was planned, is the site of the former Youville Residential School

Barbara Violo, pharmacist and owner of The Junction Chemist Pharmacy, draws up a dose behind vials of both Pfizer-BioNTech and Oxford-AstraZeneca COVID-19 vaccines on the counter, in Toronto, Friday, June 18, 2021. An independent vaccine tracker website founded by a University of Saskatchewan student says just over 20 per cent of eligible Canadians — those 12 years old and above — are now fully vaccinated. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Nathan Denette
At least 20% of eligible Canadians fully vaccinated, 75% with one dose: data

Earlier projections for reopening at this milestone didn’t include Delta variant

This undated file photo provided by Ernie Carswell & Partners shows the home featured in the opening and closing scenes of The Brady Bunch in Los Angeles. Do you know the occupation of Mike Brady, the father in this show about a blended family? (Anthony Barcelo/Ernie Carswell & Partners via AP, File)
QUIZ: A celebration of dad on Father’s Day

How much do you know about famous fathers?

A dose of the Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine is pictured at a vaccination site in Vancouver Thursday, March 11, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jonathan Hayward
NACI advice to mix vaccines gets varied reaction from AstraZeneca double-dosers

NACI recommends an mRNA vaccine for all Canadians receiving a second dose of a COVID-19 vaccine

Bruce Springsteen performs at the 13th annual Stand Up For Heroes benefit concert in support of the Bob Woodruff Foundation in New York on Nov. 4, 2019. (Greg Allen/Invision/AP)
Canadians who got AstraZeneca shot can now see ‘Springsteen on Broadway’

B.C. mayor David Screech who received his second AstraZeneca dose last week can now attend the show

Most Read