Air Transat to Pay $295,000 Penalty for Summer Passenger Debacles

by Richard D'Ambrosio
Air Transat to Pay $295,000 Penalty for Summer Passenger Debacles

Air Transat Airbus A310 arriving from Barcelona at Montréal-Pierre Elliott Trudeau International Airport. Photo: Patrick Cardinal

The Canadian Transportation Agency (CTA) has levied a $295,000 penalty on Air Transat for the mistreatment of customers this summer at Ottawa International Airport, stranding passengers on two international flights.

Air Transat flight 507 from Rome spent four hours and 47 minutes on the tarmac, while passengers on flight 157 from Brussels were trapped for nearly six hours, after both planes were diverted from Montreal Trudeau International Airport on July 31, due to bad weather.

Conditions became so suffocating on flight 157, that a passenger dialed 911 after about four hours, causing paramedics, airport officials and the police to board the plane. One news report quoted a passenger saying they were told they would only be delayed on the ground for 30 minutes to refuel and head back to Montreal, but that delay extended another two hours.

The plane's electricity was eventually shut off, leaving passengers with no air conditioning, and passenger requests to deplane were refused by the airline's staff. The flight eventually took off for Montreal, landing there nearly 15 hours after passengers boarded in Brussels.

The CTA found that during the tarmac delays, Air Transat did not properly apply its own rules related to passenger disembarkment, because aircraft commanders did not consider the option to disembark passengers when the delay exceeded 90 minutes. Additionally, rules were not followed regarding the distribution of drinks and snacks, the CTA determined.

Finally, the CTA also found that it was “unreasonable” for Air Transat’s passenger rules regarding delays to be “as broadly worded” as they are “for pilots to have such wide discretion to decide whether or not to allow passengers to disembark, no matter how lengthy the tarmac delay.”

Minimum standard of treatment must be met
Based on these findings, the CTA ordered Air Transat to compensate all passengers of the two flights for out-of-pocket expenses incurred as a result of the carrier's failure to apply its tariff by May 24, 2018. It also required Air Transat to ensure that its employees are properly trained on tariff provisions, policies, and procedures related to tarmac delays, and that employees understand these are legal obligations.

In addition, the CTA instructed Air Transat to amend its international tariffs to incorporate the terms and conditions of its “Contingency Plan for Lengthy Tarmac Delays at US Airports,” which the CTA said “create a positive obligation for the air carrier to deplane passengers if a tarmac delay reaches four hours – unless there are safety, security, or air traffic control issues that prevent it – and require that during the delay, the air carrier provide passengers with updates every 30 minutes, working lavatories, and needed medical assistance.”

Air Transat can reduce the penalty by the amount of compensation provided to passengers on the affected flights, excluding the refund of out-of-pocket expenses.

"This is a significant determination for air passengers and air carriers. It underscores that passengers have rights and recourse when their air travel is disrupted, and that even when problems stem from events such as bad weather, there is a minimum standard of treatment to which all passengers are entitled,” said Scott Streiner, CTA chair and CEO.

The CTA is an independent, quasi-judicial tribunal and regulator which has all the powers of a Superior Court, and includes as one of its mandates providing consumer protection for air passengers.

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