Customers scream foul as Air Canada, WestJet continue to deny certain compensation claims despite new directive |  CBC News

Customers scream foul as Air Canada, WestJet continue to deny certain compensation claims despite new directive | CBC News

A recent decision by the Canadian Transportation Agency (CTA) should help clear the air about flight compensation.

In issuing a decision in the WestJet case on July 8, the transport regulator he clarified thatIn general, airlines cannot deny compensation to passengers for flight disruptions caused by crew shortages.

However, the clarification only sparked fury among some passengers, including Frank Michel, who have since been denied compensation – due to crew shortages.

“It’s offensive,” said Michel, of Marquis, Sask.

He and his wife Leigh flew with Air Canada in June. The couple’s flight from Regina to Victoria was delayed by more than five hours. Then the second leg of their return flight was cancelled, so the couple ended up spending the night at the Vancouver airport.

“I have arthritis, it hurts and hurts, I sleep on a frozen concrete floor,” Michel, 67, said.

After Air Canada canceled his flight, Michel, 67, ended up spending the night on the floor of the Vancouver airport. (Frank Michel)

The couple asked for damages, which would have been $2,800 if qualified. At the end of July, however, Air Canada rejected the Michel couple’s claims. In two separate emails seen by CBC News, the airline said each flight disruption was “due to crew restrictions” related to COVID-19 and was “security-related.”

According to federal rulesairlines must pay compensation — up to $1,000 per passenger — only if the flight disruption is within the airline’s control and not safety-related.

Michel claims that Air Canada is not playing by the rules.

“The CTA has already made it clear that crew restrictions are not an acceptable excuse,” he said. “It’s not a security issue. It’s a management issue. You have to manage your resources.”

“This decision doesn’t seem to mean anything”

The CTA issued its clarification last month following a case in which WestJet denied compensation to a customer who said his flight was canceled for safety reasons due to crew shortages.

In its ruling, the CTA emphasized that staffing issues are largely the airline’s responsibility and usually require compensation. WestJet was ordered to pay the passenger $1,000.

“Training and staffing are under the control of the airline, so crew shortages are under the control of the airline unless there is compelling evidence,” CTA spokesman Tom Oommen said in an interview. “It’s a high threshold.

Watch: Air passengers say they were unfairly denied compensation:

Travelers say they are being unfairly denied compensation for Air Canada flight cancellations

Some passengers say they are being denied compensation for canceled Air Canada flights because the airline says the flight disruption was “due to crew constraints” and beyond their control.

Oommen said the CTA’s decision will help ensure airlines follow the rules, but some passengers remain skeptical.

“This decision doesn’t seem to mean anything,” said Jennifer Peach of Langley, B.C., who booked WestJet travel with her husband last month for a wedding in St. John’s.

They almost missed it. WestJet canceled their connecting flight, and Peach said the airline then offered to rebook their flight a day later — which would have meant they would miss the wedding.

Luckily, Peach found a Porter Airlines flight that would get the couple to St. John’s about five hours later than originally planned, but still in time for the wedding. She said WestJet told her to book the flight and ask for compensation.

Peach is suing WestJet for the total of $773 it paid for Porter’s flight, plus compensation for the couple’s delayed travel. On August 2, WestJet denied both requests, saying in an email to CBC News that the flight cancellation “was due to crew member availability and was required for safety reasons.”

That didn’t sit well with Peach, especially in light of the CTA’s recent decision.

“I don’t know what’s going on here,” she said. “I suppose if the Transport Canada Agency makes that decision that it would be kind of the benchmark for all of these [claims].”

Enforcement options “may include fines:” CTA

WestJet and Air Canada declined to comment on individual cases, but both said they comply with federal air passenger regulations. WestJet said safety is its top priority. Air Canada said airlines should not be penalized for canceling flights for safety reasons.

Air passenger rights expert Ian Jack said the CTA needs to threaten airlines with stiff penalties, such as public shaming and stiff fines, if they don’t comply with compensation regulations.

“The main concern is that the regulator is not exactly striking fear into the hearts of carriers to make them comply,” said Jack, a spokesman for the Canadian Automobile Association, a not-for-profit travel agency.

“They need to know that the regulator could catch them, embarrass them and call them to task.”

This figure shows how much compensation air travelers may be entitled to depending on the length of their flight delay. (CBC)

The CTA’s Oommen hinted that stiff penalties could come for non-compliant airlines.

“We are indeed considering all enforcement options, which could include fines.”

Meanwhile, both Michel and Peach filed complaints with the CTA. However, they can wait a long time. The agency currently has a backlog of more than 15,000 complaints, Oommen said.

He said the CTA recently made changes to streamline the complaints process and is looking to hire more staff.

But Jack said he feared the build-up could prompt airlines to break the rules because any consequences would be far beyond the door.

“They don’t have to pay today and who knows, maybe in 2025 they will have to pay money.”

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