Passenger group welcomes new delay directive

Passengers check-in at Vancouver International Airport (photo: Brett Ballah).

Canada’s airline regulator has been told to create new rules covering the way passengers should be treated when their aircraft is delayed on the tarmac.

“This includes the obligation to provide timely information and assistance to passengers, as well as the minimum standards of treatment of passengers,” reads an order published in late April by Transport Minister Marc Garneau.

The ministerial direction is part of a process to establish a so-called Passenger Bill of Rights, which is being crafted by the Canadian Transportation Agency, which regulates airlines in the country.

Draft rules published December called for airlines to provide “at minimum, access to working lavatories, proper ventilation and heating or cooling, food and drink, and the ability to communicate with people outside the plane free of charge,” when their plane was delayed on the tarmac at least three hours.

The new directive lowers the threshold for regulations to kick in.

“The Minister’s decision is a step in the right direction,” said Gábor Lukács, founder of Air Passenger Rights Canada. “We are pleased that the Transport Minister has recognized that Canadians should not be kept on the tarmac for three hours or more. This is what we and the Senate have been saying all along.”

Tarmac delays can happen, for instance, when bad weather affects airline operations. In early April, Sunwing was fined almost $700,000 when thousands of passengers were delayed by an ice storm in Toronto.

The CTA ruled Sunwing had broken a number of its own rules when it came to the treatment of passengers, including one particular flight when unlucky passengers boarded in Toronto, spent hours on the ground, shuffled between two de-icing procedures, a refuelling, and finally returned to a gate where no crew was available to meet them.

Passengers complained they were left without food and water, and without anyone to tell them what was going on.

APR said more than 8,000 people had sent e-mails demanding changes to the proposed three-hour delay rule, among other concerns. The group also wants to see other changes, such as automatic compensation when people are denied boarding.