Good evening, and thank you honourable senators for the invitation to join you tonight to comment on Bill C-49, specifically as it relates to air passenger rights. I will begin my remarks by providing some background on why the CAA has been pleased to be a leading voice in the air passenger rights discussion.
CAA was founded in 1913 as a non-profit advocacy organization to represent the interests of motorists, but the world has evolved since then and so has CAA. Today we have more than 6 million members from coast to coast, and the services we offer them extend well beyond emergency roadside assistance.
In fact, CAA, through our store network and online, is one of Canada’s largest leisure travel agencies, with over 150 retail outlets. But we also remain a non-profit, member-driven organization that is, at its heart, an advocate for the Canadian traveller.
Our travel agents work with air passengers every day. We understand the business. This allows us to take a strong, informed position in favour of air passenger rights, while at the same time recognizing that the consumer interest is best served by a healthy and competitive industry.
The passenger protection regime in Canada has been untouched for many years, leading to a widening discrepancy between how U.S. and European air travellers are treated on one side, and Canadians on the other. It is time that we do better when it comes to protecting Canadian air travellers, and we view this legislation as a welcome step in this direction.
The public is very supportive. CAA polling has found that an overwhelming 91 per cent of Canadians agree it is time Canada has its own national airline consumer code.
Bill C-49 contains many of the improvements that we have been calling for over the past several years. Of course, many of the things that consumers care about most will only be determined through the regulation-writing process that would follow passage of C-49. For example, the definitions of passenger ‘treatment’ in specific situations and the levels of compensation for specific infractions will need to be set out clearly, as will the definition of what constitutes a mechanical defect within the control of an air carrier.
A well-intentioned bill will end up having no positive impact for Canadians if the end result is minuscule compensation, available in exceptionally narrow circumstances and not easily accessible to members of the general public. We must all work to ensure that does not happen.
CAA recognizes that one of the most critical elements of an air passenger regime will be ensuring that travellers know their rights. The regime put in place to protect travellers must be clear, transparent, fair and consistent. Furthermore, the process for passengers to claim their rights with the airlines must be simple and proactive in nature. When compensation is due, respecting travellers rights should be the airlines’ default approach.
CAA has been pleased to see that both Minister Garneau and CTA Chair and CEO, Scott Streiner, agree that the air passenger rights regime will be designed as a proactive one where airlines are expected to compensate consumers when compensation is due. Consumers should only have to turn to the CTA for redress as a last resort if airlines fail. An added benefit of such a system is that the CTA should be able to focus on more complex complaints and to perform proactive compliance audits to ensure consumers’ rights are being observed.
Indeed, a recent report from the EU Consumer Association found that only 25 per cent of EU flyers are getting the compensation they are due for lengthy delays, because airlines are not required to proactively offer it. This is the nightmare scenario for all of us who have worked hard to get to this point.
One further area I want to touch on before I close is the importance of airline performance reporting with respect to the key metrics in the passenger protection regime. In the U.S., these statistics are published month by month. This information doesn’t just allow consumers and stakeholders to monitor performance. It also causes airlines to compete against each other in these areas. This translates into better service and treatment for travellers. The data collected should track the legislation and must be disclosed publicly and in a timely manner. Sunshine is after all the best disinfectant.
CAA supports the provisions of Bill C-49 related to air passenger rights. We will be participating in the regulation-making process to make sure the consumer interest continues to be heard loud and clear. In order for Canadians to judge the new system a success, we must get this right.
The average middle-class passenger in this country, who also happens to be our customer at CAA, does not typically have the protections that come with premium status or full fare tickets. This legislation, if the accompanying regulations get it right, will help these passengers most of all.
We urge this committee to stay engaged even beyond these hearings, to make sure the eventual system is one that works well for all Canadian air passengers.
Thank you and I look forward to your questions.