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More airline passenger protection at core of bill tabled by northern B.C. MP

Current system favours the airline, NDP transportation critic Taylor Bachrach says
Skeena Bulkley MP Taylor Bachrach tabled a private member’s bill which he believes will help protect airline passengers on March 20. He is pictured here at the second-anniversary ceremony of the sinking of tug Ingenika on Feb. 10 in Prince Rupert. (Photo: K-J Millar/The Northern view)

After a series of cancelled Prince Rupert flights, NDP Transportation Critic and Skeena-Bulkley Valley MP Taylor Bachrach, presented a new bill to the House of Commons on March 20 that addresses airline passenger protection.

The private member’s bill, called Strengthening Air Passenger Protection, would force airlines to pay travellers compensation without delay and would put the onus on the airline to prove when cancellations are out of their control.

“The current system favours the airline because it’s so difficult for passengers to actually get the money they’re owed,” Bachrach said.

“We want to flip the script on that and make compensation the norm rather than the exception.”

Air passenger compensation requirements are laid out in the Canadian Transportation Act.

Currently, the act lists three types of disruptions — disruptions that are outside of an airline’s control, disruptions that are inside an airline’s control and disruptions that are inside an airline’s control but are required for safety.

“It’s that third category that airlines have been using to deny passengers compensation,” Bachrach said.

Bachrach’s proposed bill suggests scrapping the current classification system and moving to just two categories — ordinary disruptions and extraordinary disruptions — with airlines being required to compensate customers for the former but not the latter.

Ordinary disruptions refer to anything the airline could have prevented through regular operation by doing things such as proper maintenance and ensuring there is enough crew available to fly the plane. Something like a major winter storm would fall under the extraordinary disruption category.

This is the system that the European Union uses, Bachrach said.

Paired with changes to the act, which would require airlines to provide compensation right away and to prove if the cancellation was due to extraordinary circumstances, passengers would not have to jump through as many hoops to be recompensed after their flights are cancelled.

“What’s happening now is that airlines typically deny passenger’s requests for compensation under the Air Passenger Protection Regime, forcing them to go through the Canadian Transportation Agency complaint process, which involves a bunch of steps. Only a small fraction of affected passengers have the fortitude to navigate that much bureaucracy to pursue compensation.”

According to the NDP, the Canadian Transportation Agency has more than 42,000 complaints backlogged, which they have said will take more than 18 months to get to.

Bachrach’s bill also proposes increasing the maximum financial penalties when airlines do not abide by the Canadian Transportation Act.

“The Canadian Transportation Agency rarely fines the airlines and when it does, it’s for such paltry amounts that it doesn’t really serve as a deterrent for future behaviour,” the MP said.

“As long as the cost of following the rules is greater than the cost of breaking them, we’re going to see companies making that choice.”

The NDP transportation critic would like to see the Liberal Party bring it forward as a government bill so it can be passed more quickly.

“It can take quite a bit of time for a private member’s bill to come forward for debate, but what I wanted to do in tabling this bill was to articulate in legislation the changes that consumer advocates can be calling for,” he said.

Specifically, Bachrach said he worked with Air Passenger Rights, Public Interest Advocacy Centre and Option Consommateurs to draft the bill.

“Our message to the Minister is steal our homework. This isn’t about taking credit. It’s about protecting Canadian travellers and I hope he’ll act on that message as quickly as possible.”

READ MORE: Prince Rupert residents stranded in Vancouver 3 days after flights are cancelled

 Kaitlyn Bailey | Local Journalism Initiative Reporter
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