Canada Can do Better for Air Travellers
91% of Canadians say a national airline consumer code is important.
The Canadian Automobile Association has been representing the travelling public since 1913. And for decades, we have been operating one of the country’s largest leisure travel agencies.
On behalf of our more than 6 million members from coast to coast, we have been advocating for better and clearer rights for air passengers.
That’s already the case in the United States and the European Union, where governments have passed strong consumer protection laws for air passengers. We believe Canadians deserve no less, so that when something goes wrong, they know what their rights are and how to claim them.
Following extensive lobbying by CAA and others, the Canadian government has decided to put in place a better rights regime for passengers. CAA will be there throughout the process to advocate for improved consumer rights to replace the current system, which is a patchwork for air passengers who suffer unreasonable delays, cancellations, lost bags or other problems that could reasonably be said to be the fault of the air carrier. We believe the new system must follow some simple principles.
CAA advocates for clearer and improved rights for air travellers, which include:
- Consumers should have the right to access, in clear, simple language, the terms and conditions, and penalties, associated with purchasing airline products or services.
- The public needs to know their rights in order to claim them. The CTA, or Transport Canada, should devote budget to market the complaint mechanism and air traveller rights. And, the airlines should be required to provide plain-language, easily-accessible information about the complaints process and how to complain.
- The complaint process, if an airline cannot satisfy a complaint, should be as efficient as possible. The CTA should be empowered to make industry-wide rulings. This would simplify and clarify the system for consumers and airlines, and lower regulatory costs. The current system is duplicative, time-consuming, and dependent on complainants willing to tolerate the process.
- CATSA should have an enhanced emphasis on customer service. There should be a requirement to display its internal guidelines for acceptable passenger wait times, and report actual wait times, at all airports in Canada. Transparency will lead to pressure to create and improve average times. More Canadians should be able to take advantage of pre-clearance at airports. The government should consider a “Nexus-lite” program that would work more like the US Trusted Traveller Program, allowing larger numbers of somewhat frequent travellers to take advantage of quicker lines, and lessen the wait time for others.
- Canadian standards for air passenger protections should be made in Canada. Significantly lower standards in Canada will eventually become known to today’s savvy international passengers and work against Canada’s carriers. They can also disadvantage Canadian passengers, raising a question of basic fairness – it is cheaper today, for example, for a Canadian carrier to bump a Canadian from a flight originating in Europe than a national of the EU.
- Transparency is the best way to good policy, and customer outcomes, but tougher regulation cannot be ruled out, given what other major jurisdictions have done. Airlines should be mandated to provide a relevant consumer data to Transport Canada or the CTA for collation and publication – for instance the number of passengers denied boarding, on-time performance and lost baggage. Transport Canada, or the CTA, should do a regular review of minimum compensation and terms required by major jurisdictions, including Canada, and publish it.
- It is unfair, and misleading to some consumers, that all-in price advertising rules apply only to scheduled carrier service. The federal government should take the lead in trying for federal-provincial-agreement that charter service pricing should also display the total price.