Air Canada refuses to compensate passengers whose flights have been cancelled

(Montreal) Defenders of traveler rights have accused Air Canada of violating federal regulations by refusing to pay compensation to passengers whose flights were canceled due to staff shortages.

Posted at 10:13am
Updated at 11:23am

Christopher Reynolds
The Canadian Press

According to the Canadian Air Passengers Bill of Rights, an airline must pay compensation of up to US$1,000 “in the event of delays and cancellations in situations attributable to the carrier but not necessary for safety reasons” and if the passenger does so done 14 days or less prior to departure.

But airlines don’t have to pay a penny if the flight is canceled for safety reasons.

In a memo issued Dec. 29, Air Canada instructed its employees to classify flights canceled due to staff shortages as a “safety issue.” Customers affected by the cancellations were entitled to room and meal standards but not charter compensation.

According to the note, this policy was intended to be “temporary.” However, Air Canada confirmed in an email sent July 25 that it was “still in effect due to the ongoing circumstances caused by the COVID variants.”

The Canadian Transportation Agency (CTA) says reducing understaffing to a safety issue violates federal regulations. It states that the lack of staff due to “the action or inaction of the carrier” falls into the category of situations that can be attributed to it.

“For safety reasons, a disruption due to a lack of staff cannot be considered due if this lack is due to the company’s own actions,” the agency said in an email.

In a decision released July 8, the OTC used similar language. She called WestJet to place the order and stressed that the airline needed to ensure “there are sufficient staff on hand to operate the services offered for sale.” WestJet had tried to defend itself by acknowledging that the cancellation was attributable to her but was necessary for safety reasons.

The president of the Travelers Rights press group, Gabor Lukacs, accused Air Canada of exploiting a loophole in the charter to avoid paying compensation to its customers. He urges the OTC to be more rigorous in applying the charter.

” [Air Canada] misinterprets things that are clearly not security issues,” he says.

Customers can challenge an airline’s decision by filing a complaint with the CTA. However, it needs to check a large number of files. In May, 15,300 were connected to airlines.

Mr Lukacs mentions that airlines in the European Union cannot invoke safety reasons to avoid paying compensation to passengers in the event of a cancellation. Only “extraordinary circumstances” such as bad weather conditions or political instability can exempt companies from the obligation to pay compensation.

Sylvie Bellefeuille, President of Consommateurs Group Option, says Ar Canada’s assessment shows that the airline’s priority is to limit the cost of a flight cancellation, rather than providing a good service to its customers.

She accuses Air Canada of wanting to dissuade its customers from demanding compensation. “In our view, this tactic does not show that the company cares about its customers. »

It goes without saying that the carrier does not share this opinion.

“Air Canada has had and has more employees in relation to its flight schedule compared to pre-pandemic times,” the company defended in an email. She adds that she’s doing everything she can to prepare for disruptions to operations.

“Air Canada continues to comply with all public health guidelines. It’s in his safety culture. We revised our policy during the Omicron wave that impacted our staff availability last winter to better support our customers, particularly with flight cancellations related to absent crew members due to COVID. »

John Gradek, a specialist in air traffic management at McGill University, sees the CTA as partly responsible for this “debacle” because it has set up rules that are more flexible than in Europe or the United States.

“Carriers have gone to great lengths to blame and pretend they have no control over delays to reduce their liability,” he says.

Companies in this story: (TSX: AC).

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