Canadian Transportation Agency

Will the CTA temporarily adjust passenger rights rules?

Airline regulator examines temporary adjustment to compensation requirements for cancelled or delayed flights

Airlines argue the temporary rules are necessary because of the uncertainty generated by COVID-19

airline exemptions
The departure board at Vancouver International airport (Brett Ballah).

Canada’s airline regulator is considering a request by airlines for temporary changes to the country’s new Air Passenger Rights regulations. The Canadian Transportation Agency is looking at changes to allow airlines to cancel flights on shorter notice and allow for longer delays before compensation rules kick in. The CTA opened a public comments period Friday.

The CTA announced the new passenger rights rules to great fanfare in May 2019. In them, airlines must provide compensation and/or provide minimum levels of care for people whose flights are cancelled on short notice or delayed for issues in their control. Under the regulations, short notice means 14 days. A flight is delayed if it’s more than three hours late.

The temporary rules under consideration would allow an airline to cancel a flight with as little as three days’ notice. They could also delay flights up to six hours without paying compensation. The airlines also asking for the relaxing of rules forcing them to rebook passengers on other carriers in some circumstances.

This comes at a time when airlines are under continued fire from consumers over the issue of refunds. When the pandemic struck, as airlines cancelled scores of flights, most of them decided to offer vouchers for future travel rather than refund passengers in most circumstances. Since March, only Westjet has reversed its initial policy. The group Air Passenger Rights estimates the airlines are holding more than $3.8 billion in non-refunded fares.

“There is no predictability and no way to assess or anticipate the market or passenger demand which reacts to the conditions
set by government globally,” Air Canada argued in asking for the waiver.

Cancelled flights were the summer norm

In the first few months after the new rules were announced, the CTA received thousands of complaints. Since March, it has received 11,000 more.

The impact of the pandemic on aviation is staggering, according to numbers released by the CTA. Between July and September, Canada’s airlines scheduled 234,971 flights. Of those, 189,156 were cancelled. That’s more than 80%. In fact, the data show the number of scheduled flights cancelled over the summer skyrocketed by 3,597% over 2019.

Of those cancellations, 2,223 came with less than two weeks notice, 21.7% higher than last year. No data was provided on the number of flights delayed more than six hours.

For every 100 passengers booked to fly between July and September, 176 cancelled their trip, according to the CTA.

Airlines say the shorter period is necessary because the rules keep changing, often with extremely short notice. For example, On top of that, a third of passengers are booking less than two weeks ahead.

In short, they just don’t know which flights are going to fill up.

In a brief submitted to the CTA, the National Airlines Council of Canada argued that forcing airlines to fly mostly empty planes doesn’t make economic sense. “Carriers cannot sustain the operation of flights if demand does not justify it, or if demand subsequently evaporates within days of departure as a result of the effects of the ongoing pandemic and government decisions,” the NACC wrote in September.

CTA comment period on passenger rights changes

Some in the industry have argued airlines are scheduling flights knowing full well they will cancel them later. It’s a way of earning some cash flow in a trying time, though they have questioned the ethics of the practice.

The CTA says “temporary adjustments may be allowed if the CTA finds it unnecessary, undesirable or impractical for certain APPR requirements to apply for a particular period of time.”

It’s asking the public to weigh in on:

  • whether carriers should have to rebook passengers on other airlines
  • whether the cancellation and delay rules should be eased
  • How long the changes should last.

The agency is accepting comments by email until January 15.

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