Air passenger rights are “uneven” due to a complaints-based system that fails to meet E.U. or American standards, Transport Canada admits in a departmental memo. The document cited public demands for “more prescriptive” regulations that would spell out airlines’ duties to their customers.
The 2013 memo was released through Access To Information. It was written by unnamed staff for Transport Minister Lisa Raitt, detailing Canadian Transportation Act regulations that require passengers to individually complain to regulators over lost luggage, flight delays and denial of boarding on over-booked flights.
“This system results in an uneven application of measures, as Canadian Transportation Agency decisions only apply to the carrier and issue(s) that were the subject of a complaint,” the memo states. The “uneven” reference was marked for deletion. Raitt was unavailable for comment.
The document continues, “The European Union and the United States have more prescriptive passenger rights regimes in place, and some members of the public have called for a similar approach in Canada.”
The memo follows disclosure of other confidential documents in which the Transportation Agency acknowledged it hears only a small fraction of passenger complaints, and has no estimate of airlines’ actual performance on flight delays, lost luggage and over-booking.
The agency received only 882 complaints from air passengers last year and 529 the year before, according to its Annual Report. Canadian airlines carry some 40 million passengers a year.
Regulators in a confidential Assessment Of Air Passenger Level Of Service Indicators In Canada concluded they had no “official data” on airlines’ performance since carriers refused to disclose the information. “Although air carriers do not publish data on the number of complaints they receive, the U.S. Department of Transportation estimates that for every complaint they receive, the air carriers receive around 50,” Assessment concluded.
“Although there are significant differences between the two jurisdictions, applying the same ratio to Canada results in an estimate of approximately 40,000 complaints in 2010-11.”
Assessment continued, “Agency staff report that an Air Canada representative suggested the carrier received around 20,000 complaints annually but this anecdotal report is now dated and was for a single air carrier only. Lacking firm data, a range of between 20,000 and 50,000 annual air passenger complaints to Canadian airlines is not an unreasonable estimate.”
Canada has among the weakest consumer legislation for airline passengers, the report noted, citing statutory passengers’ rights in the E.U., Argentina; Brazil; Chile; China; Colombia, Iceland; India; Israel; Nigeria; Norway; Pakistan; Peru; The Philippines; Switzerland; Thailand; Turkey; Uruguay; Venezuela and the United States, where delays of more than four hours entitle passengers to 400% compensation to a maximum US$1,300.