The Atlantic Canada Airports Association says changes that are being proposed to Canada’s Air Passenger Protection Regulations (APPR) could increase prices and reduce service in a region that’s already facing connectivity issues.
As first reported in the Globe and Mail, the association recently outlined its concerns in a submission to the Canadian Transportation Agency (CTA), which has been gathering feedback as it looks to implement changes to rules that hold airlines financially responsible for flight disruptions.
Ottawa’s proposed overhaul of air passenger rights charter include beefed-up measures that aim to tighten “loopholes” to traveller compensation and lead to harsher penalties.
Under the current system, a passenger is entitled to between $125 and $1,000 in compensation for a three-hour-plus delay or a cancellation made within 14 days of a scheduled departure unless the disruption is outside the airline's control, such as weather or a safety issue (like mechanical problems) – the latter of which some critics say airlines have been using to dodge responsibility.
Ottawa, in June, streamlined the rules and, as of Sept. 30, passengers will be entitled to compensation when a flight is disrupted, unless the airline can show “exceptional circumstances.”
They are also eligible for refunds, food or hotel stays, depending on the situation.
Former Transport Minister Omar Alghabra left it to the CTA to define the "circumstances," and enact other policies.
The CTA’s consultation period on the changes is now over and submissions are posted on its website here.
“While we support efforts to improve the passenger experience, much work is needed to ensure changes do not inadvertently lead to detrimental negative implications and unintended consequences that hurt the entire sector including the travelling public,” writes Nadia MacDonald, executive director of the group, which represents hubs in Halifax, St. John’s and 11 other cities.
“Increased regulatory demands including penalties, cost recovery mechanisms and other penalties will burden airlines with higher operational costs, potentially translating to escalated ticket prices for air travellers and reduced regional connectivity.”
In addition: “For passengers, increased costs limit accessibility to air travel, potentially hindering tourism, family visits, and business trips.”
The current air passenger rights system was first introduced in 2019 before the COVID-19 pandemic struck.
The regulations were amended last October as officials tried to close a loophole that left some passengers unable to get refunds during the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic when thousands of flights were cancelled
The backlog of passenger complaints to the CTA, meanwhile, exceeds 50,000.
Meanwhile, recent submissions from airlines to the CTA are opposed to the changes that have ben drafted for APPR.
Air Canada, for one, wants more circumstances exempt from compensation, and fewer cases in which payment is owed.
“The most troubling aspect of the proposed list is related to safety,” wrote the submission in its submission to the CTA. “The deliberate exclusion of mechanical or technical malfunctions (or concerns regarding the same) from the list of proposed exceptions departs from the original fair and balanced intention of the APPR…The vast majority of mechanical issues or concerns are not controllable and are unforeseeable circumstances.”
WestJet, on the other hand, believes amendments to the rules would punish airlines for making legitimate safety-related decisions.
“…the proposed amendments would be the most punitive air passenger compensation regime globally and would increase the cost of travel in Canada and inevitably lead to a reduction in regional connectivity and service to underserved markets,” the airline wrote in its submission to the CTA.