An air passenger rights advocate says he has flagged problems to authorities with refund rules to Ottawa for more than a year.
Air Passenger Rights Chairman Gabor Lukacs said he spoke with policy experts at the Department of Transportation and the Canadian Transportation Agency in January 2019 about the ambiguity in the new passenger bill of rights.
“The failure was specifically discussed to clearly address,” said Lucas, who captured the first half of the 90-minute teleconference on January 17 of that year.
The Passenger Rights Charter on reimbursing customers for all canceled flights is a “misconception that airlines are free to do as they please”, the advocacy group wrote in a submission to the agency in February 2019, when regulations were yet Was not finalized.
The Charter came fully into force in December 2019.
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Internal documents from the Department of Transportation and the Transport Agency show that it took the government more than seven months to process the refund after the first “gaps” were identified in the regulations.
Correspondence recently released to a parliamentary committee suggests that authorities in May 2020 uncovered a regulatory blind spot to reimburse customers whose flights were canceled due to the COVID-19 epidemic, but corrective until last December The measures failed to be announced.
But Lucas said he had alerted the government long before then, resulting in an opportunity to avert a serious crisis that saw thousands of customers out of pocket after carriers scrubbed in bulk the bulk of their flight schedule over the past 14 months saw.
Influenced by border restrictions and travel advice, airlines have cited transport agency statements saying they may withhold reimbursement.
The agency said in a website post on March 25, 2020, “Some airlines’ tariffs (passenger-airline contracts) provide for refunds in some cases, but it can be assumed that the airlines believe that the airlines give them Relieves such obligations. “
The new Air Passenger Protection Regulations require carriers to compensate passengers for delays and cancellations within the airline’s control, but do not require a refund for missed flights resulting in conditions beyond its control such as weather , “War or political instability,” or even mechanical problems.
However, long-standing regulations under the Canada Transport Act say that the condition of the carriage must be “fair and reasonable”. The transport agency has confirmed the right of reimbursement of passengers in at least four cases in the last 17 years.
In a 2013 decision involving Porter Airlines, the agency stated that “it is unreasonable for Porter to refuse to return a fare paid by a passenger due to a flight being canceled, even if the reason is beyond Porter’s control.” Event. “
Lucas said the agency’s quasi-tribunal panel is not bound in the same way that a court is, but there are many cases forcing travelers to confirm the refund rights amount.
While the obligation of reimbursement exists regardless of its partial exclusion from last year’s Passenger Rights Charter, Lucas said that if the charter had met the requirement, much confusion between customers, carriers and officials could have been avoided.
Transport Canada and the Canadian Transportation Agency did not immediately respond to requests for comment.
Provincial regulators and consumer advocates have also emphasized passenger rights on various grounds.
“We understand that these are difficult times for consumers and suppliers. However, there exist clear laws in British Columbia that entitle consumers to refunds – and full refunds – if they do not receive those services, ”said Shahid Noorani, a provincial regulator in Consumer Protection BC.
“And if they are not receiving a refund, that’s when our office is prepared to step in and deal with the case,” he said in an interview.
Sylvie de Bellefeuil, a lawyer with the Alvez Concept, said Quebec’s civil code is equally unquestionable.
“I didn’t see how they could take the money and not provide the service,” she said. “The law is very clear in Quebec.”
Air Canada and Transat have worked with the federal government in aid deals that loan billions of dollars in return for carriers to return passengers, restore regional routes and maintain employment levels.
Other carriers, such as Sunwing Airlines, have yet to offer reimbursement for canceled trips.
Relief agreements could ease pressure on the agency, as passengers faced a backlog of more than 16,000 unprocessed complaints in February.
The regulator said at the beginning of this year, about 60 percent or about 8,000 complaints related to mid-March 2020 were 13,400 complaints.
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