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'Dog and pony show': Air passenger rights on public consultation

Last Updated Aug 28, 2018 at 12:47 pm PDT

(iStock Photo)

'We are concerned the content has already been decided,' said rep for Air Passenger Rights

An exception for technical problems is a big mistake, said company that fights for travellers' rights

VANCOUVER (NEWS 1130) – Today is the last day for you to raise your voice about changes you want to see to a federal bill that looks to protect passenger rights. But advocates say the process has been flawed and there are lots of bugs in the proposed rules.

The Canadian Transportation Agency is finalizing new regulations — informally known as the passenger bill of rights — to outline airline passenger protections. They include things like your flight being delayed or cancelled, you getting bumped from a flight, or the airline losing your luggage.

Gabor Lukacs is with the group Air Passenger Rights. He has serious concerns about the integrity of the consultation.

“We received evidence that the government watchdog has engaged in secret, private communications with the airline industry… well before the bill ever received assent, well before parliament ever studied the bill,” he claimed. “We are concerned that the content of the regulation has already been decided with the airlines and what we see now is just a dog and pony show — smoke in mirrors.”

The non-profit group says its mission is “to turn helpless passengers into empowered travellers through education, advocacy, investigation, and litigation.”

Lukacs said transcripts of public consultations are not available “which indicates they didn’t bother to transcribe what people had to say at those events.”

(Hana Mae Nassar, NEWS 1130 Photo)

The idea behind the passenger bill of rights is supposed to be to to force airlines to pay up if they are, in any way, responsible for messing up your travel experience. It will also offer an informal dispute resolution and a court-like complaint process.

But Lukacs said his group is concerned the government is actually taking away passengers’ rights.

“For example, doubling the time passengers can be kept on the tarmac from 90 minutes to three hours. Or relieving airlines from the obligation to pay passengers compensation if they are delayed or their flight is cancelled for reasons due to the airlines’s own maintenance issues.”

Chistian Nielsen, chief legal officer for AirHelp, shares that concern. “What they have done is they’ve said, ‘You can take compensation, in case you have a long delay or a cancellation. But there’s an exception. And that exception goes to technical problems with the aircraft.'”

AirHelp is a company that says it “fights for millions of travellers who are unsure of their rights, lack the time, or lack the expertise to embark on the claims process independently.”

Nielsen said allowing an exception for technical problems is a big mistake. “It will not encourage airlines to keep the highest form of maintenance to avoid any technical problems… which might then be risking the safety of passengers.”

He argued a technical problem is “impossible for the consumer to determine… It’s only something the airline knows.”

RELATED: Canadian Transportation Agency wants public input on air passenger rights

Lukacs is also worried about safety. “When airlines don’t face financial consequences for having to keep up their fleet to high standards, they actually will slack off on it.”

He points to Europe, where passengers are entitled to more compensation and qualify for it easier. “It has created more safety. It has created better connections. When you go to Europe, quite often there will be someone waiting for you at the gate, even though you are just a regular economy passenger, and help you make your connection.”

As for the new regulations that will be announced, Lukacs believes many of them will be “just replications of rights already existing on the law books, or worse than what is already in the law books.”

Lukacs doesn’t think passengers will end up with any additional rights.

He believes it will take people really taking a stand. “It’s a question of how much voters are willing to convey to their members of parliament that they actually care about their rights being enforced.”

 – With files from Lasia Kretzel