Tuesday, the Canadian government laid out its initial plans to develop an airline passenger bill of rights, including compensation in the event of an incident like denied boarding.
As part of a package of amendments planned for the Canada Transportation Act, new rules will include protecting passengers from being removed from a flight against their will, minimum levels of compensation for voluntary bumped passengers and lost or damaged baggage, and compensation in the event that a flight is delayed due to an airline’s operations they control.
The bill also will prevent airlines from charging parents to sit next to their children if those children are under the age of 14. The initial text of Bill C-49 did not provide specifics, including compensation dollar amounts. Those kinds of details will be determined by the Canadian Transportation Agency (CTA) after the legislation is passed.
"We have all heard recent news reports of shoddy treatment of air passengers," said Transport Minister Marc Garneau at a news conference. "Such incidents will not be tolerated in Canada. When Canadians buy an airline ticket, they expect the airline to keep its part of the deal."
Garneau would like to see the new legislation in place sometime in 2018.
Canada is one of the few major, modern countries that doesn’t have national rules governing how passengers should be treated in the event of an incident, like denied boarding due to overbooking, flight delays or cancellations, or lost or damaged baggage.
Currently, Canadian airlines are beholden only to their own policies. Some consumer advocates claim these policies are hard to find and understand. If an airline doesn’t satisfy a consumer’s claim, passengers can appeal to the CTA.
In a statement, the Canadian Automobile Association (CAA), one of Canada's largest leisure travel agencies, said it welcomed the legislation’s introduction, “but warns a lot remains to be done to make sure the new system lives up to consumer expectations.”
“The proposed legislation sets out a clear list of items for which the airlines will be held responsible, and for which consumers can expect fair treatment. But exact terms of what will be covered, and what consumers will be owed in the event something within an airline's control goes wrong, will be determined through a consultation process,” the CAA said in a statement.
Some critics of the CTA say it favors the airlines, and might not be best trusted to come up with final rules and compensation levels.
"The CTA has been in charge of air passenger rights for a long time, and there's far more that can be done to be more consumer friendly," said Jeff Walker, CAA vice president of public affairs. "Most Canadians have never heard of them, and their process is slow and bureaucratic. They need to step up their game if this system is going to work."
Still Walker said "this bill is a welcome first step that will finally begin to put Canadian air passenger consumer rights on par with those in the United States and Europe. But the details matter – if something goes wrong, will they owe you a cup of coffee, or $500? CAA will be watching the process closely to make sure the consumer interest is paramount when these decisions are made."
According to CAA polling, nearly 90% of Canadians favor airline passenger protections.
Other amendments introduced this week include new foreign ownership limits for airlines, requires railways to install voice and video recorders in locomotives and improves transparency and efficiency in the freight rail industry.