Air Passengers' Bill of Rights

An Act to Provide Certain Rights to Air Passengers

This bill was last introduced in the 40th Parliament, 3rd Session, which ended in March 2011.

This bill was previously introduced in the 40th Parliament, 2nd Session.

Sponsor

Jim Maloway  NDP

Introduced as a private member’s bill. (These don’t often become law.)

Status

In committee (House), as of May 13, 2009
(This bill did not become law.)

Summary

This is from the published bill. The Library of Parliament often publishes better independent summaries.

This enactment places obligations on air carriers to provide compensation and other assistance to passengers in certain cases when a flight has been cancelled or delayed, when boarding has been denied, and when an aircraft has remained on the ground for a period of more than an hour at an airport. It also requires air carriers to disclose all relevant information to the public regarding the pricing of flights and to keep passengers informed regarding any misplaced baggage and any developments in respect of their flights that could have a significant impact on their travel plans.

Elsewhere

All sorts of information on this bill is available at LEGISinfo, provided by the Library of Parliament. You can also read the full text of the bill.

Votes

May 13, 2009 Passed That the Bill be now read a second time and referred to the Standing Committee on Transport, Infrastructure and Communities.

Air Passengers' Bill of RightsPrivate Members' Business

May 8th, 2009 / 1 p.m.
See context

Liberal

Gerry Byrne Liberal Humber—St. Barbe—Baie Verte, NL

Mr. Speaker, the serious job of responding to the question of consumer protection of Canadian airline passengers must be of paramount importance to this particular Parliament. Our constituents are expecting it of us.

It was nearly one year ago, in the previous Parliament, that I tabled my private member's Motion No. 246, calling on the federal government to enact an airline passengers' bill of rights for Canadian consumers. My motion instructed the government to model its response to the already enacted airline passengers' bill of rights which is already in force within the European Union, and as well, on no less than four pieces of legislation that were being reviewed within the U.S. Congress. These were legally binding measures that would create greater consumer protection for U.S. passengers.

My motion called for the federal government to respond to the growing expectation by Canadian travellers that their basic rights as paying passengers be protected from the kind of arbitrary, and yes, often unethical decisions that were increasingly being made by an industry that, once the customer entered its care, used that control in an unfair way and seriously inconvenienced those passengers, costing them their time and their money.

Let us be clear. Airlines are in a position of total power and control over every choice and every decision of an airline passenger once they are under an airline's care.

In a feat that I have all too rarely seen in my 13-plus years in this place, my motion calling for this legislation passed unanimously, 249 to zero. Not only did I get the full support of my own Liberal caucus, but the Bloc Québécois, the NDP, and yes, the Conservative caucus stood together with me that day and said new laws and new regulations must be made to protect airline passengers in this country because the existing regulations were no longer working.

It was a proud moment for me and a historic moment for this House. Everyone agreed that something very substantial needed to be done, including both the former minister and the current Minister of Transport, both of whom that day stood up and agreed with me about the necessity of my plan, and they said so to the entire country.

This is even more relevant today than it was a year ago. The Prime Minister just announced that the government plans to sign the Canada-European Union comprehensive air transportation agreement and that a separate agreement will harmonize civil aviation safety regimes between our two jurisdictions.

What was missing, however, from the Prime Minister's announcement was a harmonization of consumer protection regimes between our two jurisdictions. The European Union has an airline passengers' bill of rights. Canada does not. If we are to have an integrated system for this proposal to work, obviously consumer protection has to be based on an equal footing between the two jurisdictions.

Therefore, why did we say this? Why did we initially call for this? What is the necessity of government-imposed consumer protection within the airline industry? Why not simply let the marketplace do the work? Why the government interference, some may ask?

The answer goes, however, even deeper than just the simple truth that the Canadian airline industries and the players therein operate with relatively little to no competition. The marketplace is not genuinely open to competition. It also goes further than the obvious point to any frequent flyer that customer care is increasingly being jettisoned by airlines in favour of cost cutting. It even goes beyond the realization that the airline industry today is more about selling tickets than it is about moving passengers.

There is a constant fact about this industry that parliamentarians must recognize will never change, even if a dozen new national airlines enter the Canadian marketplace. The fact of this matter is that no matter how sincere any particular airline's promise of better customer service in the future sounds today, there are currently no rules, no ways to complain, and no penalties to hold airlines to this standard.

The same airlines that now want to move in this enlightened direction just weeks ago refused to acknowledge that any problem ever indeed existed. That undeniable reality is that every airline holds total control and power over their customers once the boarding pass is issued, once bags are checked, and the passenger passes through security en route to the departure lounge to await boarding. This control is one-sided. It is a one-sided position of power fostered in part by government regulation.

The relationship between an airline and its customers is unlike any other. Once a ticket is purchased and a boarding pass has been issued, the reality is that every single option of personal choice is at that point immediately and effectively stripped from the customer and placed exclusively in the hands of the carrier. Here are some examples of what I mean.

A passenger arrives at the airport and is told the plane is delayed 30 minutes. Bags are checked, security is cleared, and the passenger sits and waits. Two hours later the passenger is told the plane is delayed for yet another hour, and then another hour.

Realistically, I ask the question: Can that individual now just simply go to the next counter and buy yet another $1,000 ticket? No. The bags are in the cargo hold of the original airline. It is very difficult to get them out and put on the other aircraft. That passenger is, in effect, an economic hostage.

Picture this. A passenger is on a trip from Calgary to Halifax with a stop and an aircraft change in Toronto. Bags have been checked. The crew, however, is late arriving and boarding in Calgary is delayed by 30 minutes. When the crew does arrive, the plane is quickly boarded, and that plane, for all practical purposes, is on its way. However, the airline scheduled nine other aircraft to depart Calgary that same hour for various other destinations. The plane is number 13 in line for takeoff. However, it is held up for de-icing and sits for a full two hours more. This is a real problem.

As a result of this two hour delay in taking off from Calgary, the plane lands in Toronto two hours late. The passenger discovers that the connecting flight to Halifax has left and is now disappointed and frustrated because he or she will not get to the intended destination for what is expected to be another while longer.

The airline is approached, with the customer expecting some sort of meaningful customer service response. After all, the ticket was paid for and there is a contract with the airline to go back and forth on a specific date and time. It is the airline's responsibility, one would think, to honour its contract. That is very far from reality.

Forget about the 30 minute delay due to the airline not having staff on the plane because that, according to the airline, is not a factor. What counts to the airline is that the delay was caused by de-icing, ice, and ice is caused by a drop in temperature, and a drop in temperature is a weather delay. The airline says it is not responsible for weather delays.

Forget the fact that the airline chose to schedule an entire fleet of planes to leave at the exact same time in the middle of a Canadian winter thereby causing 13 planes to show up for de-icing at the same time. Apparently, that is not considered management incompetence. That is weather, and because it is weather the airline does not have to ensure that a passenger gets the next convenient flight. The airline can put that passenger on the next flight that is convenient to it. It goes on.

From that, the passenger discovers that the next convenient flight will be in seven days. The passenger will arrive in Halifax seven days later, three days after supposedly leaving to go back home. For those seven days, waiting in Toronto for the next flight that was re-booked, the passenger is responsible for hotel bills at $150 a night, meals at $50 a day, and taxi fares to and from the airport. The original $1,000 trip to Halifax is now about to cost less than the $1,500 trip to Toronto that was never wanted. The airline can just say that it was not it's problem.

That is why we need an airline passengers' bill of rights, and it has to be initiated by this Parliament, not by the airlines. The government attempted something 48 hours before the last election call. It was called flight rights Canada, a totally voluntary initiative, which had no teeth whatsoever. Even the airlines today recognize it was not worth the paper it was written on, and they are now scrambling to devise tariff structures which would respond to customer needs.

This Parliament needs to protect Canadian airline passengers while the airlines want to save money each and every day by not treating customers well.

In 2007 Mr. Robert Milton of Air Canada made $42 million in salary. That was more than any level of compensation paid by that airline to its passengers. That is not right and that is why this Parliament must act.

I am supporting Bill C-310.

Air Passengers' Bill of RightsPrivate Members' Business

May 8th, 2009 / 1:10 p.m.
See context

NDP

Peter Stoffer NDP Sackville—Eastern Shore, NS

Mr. Speaker, I am proud to rise today to debate this particular bill on an airline passengers' bill of rights. I should also let the House know that I may have been the only person who has served 18 and a half years in the airline industry itself. I served nine and a half in Watson Lake, Yukon and nine in the Halifax area.

When I joined CP Air in 1979, it was one of the greatest days of my life. In fact, in the industry, I am known as what is called an orange tail. Working at Watson Lake, Yukon, we tried to provide the best possible service for people who would come up to Yukon, not just to visit our wonderful territory and northern B.C. but for all the miners, expediters, tourists, hunters, trappers and all the people who would come through there.

The type of service we would provide was absolutely wonderful. We started with two flights a day: flight 18, which would go north, and then flight 19, which would turn around at Whitehorse and then come back. It was called the “milk run” in those days. Out of Watson Lake, we would serve a nice meal with beverages. There was no charge for wine and beer back in those days. Everything was there.

The reality is that the people who work for the airline industry must always look over their shoulder to see if they have jobs the following day. I have yet to meet one airline agent of any airline who caused an airline to fall or have problems. I have seen a tremendous amount of managers and board directors that simply do not know how to run an airline. We had top-quality customer service, probably some of the best in the world. Now, with the conglomeration with Air Canada, we have some of the worst.

I certainly do not for one second want my comments to infer that the agents on the ground handling either the luggage or the customers are in any way, shape or form responsible. The head of Air Canada, Robert Milton, leaves the airline and takes $42 million in salary with him. Then, Monty Brewer leaves after him and takes millions of dollars with him. Then, the airline turns around and says to these agents and retirees that they are not sure about their pension plans anymore.

When people go to work looking over their shoulders, they see their deductions. First, they are wondering if they are going to have jobs. Second, they are wondering if they will have pensions. These are the people that customers meet. Through all of that, they still provide friendly customer service from all the other carriers as well.

Why is it that we had Bruce Hood as the complaints commissioner for the airlines many years ago? Why did the government have to institute that type of individual? It is because the airlines have been nickel-and-diming their customers slowly but surely.

I will give a few inside tips on what the airlines used to do. Whether they still do it, I do not know, but I have a hunch that they may. We used to have maybe six or seven flights to a particular destination from point A to point B. If, at around 10 o'clock, a flight was showing two or three people on it and the 12 o'clock flight had maybe eight people, there was a good chance that the 10 o'clock flight would be cancelled. Why? It was mechanical. I love that answer. That is what we told our customers. We moved them over to the 12 o'clock flight.

First, one saves crew time, because the crews only get paid when they are in the air. Then, of course, one saves on fuel and other expenses. The aircraft that was supposed to leave Halifax to go to Charlottetown had to pick people up from Charlottetown and come back. They were also disrupted. Why? It was mechanical. As an airline agent, I never believed that one. At times it was, but the reality is that we used to cancel flights like that just to save money. If that is a management decision, fine. However, we should be honest and tell the people why we did it. We should not mislead them.

I want to provide a classic example of what happened. I was working at Canadian Airlines on Christmas Day many years ago at Halifax Airport. Our friends over at Air Canada had a flight leaving at around 12 o'clock in the afternoon from Halifax to Bermuda. We were rather jealous because we would have loved to have had that service. Many people were there. This was their Christmas holiday. This was Christmas Day. A lot of them saved up all year. A lot of them had anniversaries. This was their trip: to leave the cold of Halifax and go to Bermuda.

Everybody got out and checked in on time. At about 11:30, when the people should have been boarding, it was announced that the flight was going to be delayed by an hour because of a slight mechanical problem. Okay. No worries. No sweat. It was Christmas. They were on holidays. Everyone was happy.

At about 12:50 p.m., when that flight should have been ready to close the doors, they made an announcement telling us they had another delay until 2:30 p.m. In the industry we call that a staggered delay. It creeps. It is like bracket creep in taxes; it creeps up.

They just said it was mechanical. They did not tell the people anything else. I went to the ramp and found out exactly what was wrong, but because I worked at the other airline, it was not my position or right to tell the customers what was happening.

What happened was that there was a no-go item on the aircraft. They had to have it, but it was not in Halifax. That part was in Toronto. In order for the plane to leave Halifax, they had to get that part from Toronto to Halifax. They did not tell the people that until 2:30 p.m. They announced a further delay and then told them what happened. They said the flight may leave at 4:00 p.m. or 5:00 p.m. or 6:00 p.m., that they were waiting for a part to come in from Toronto.

Fine, they did the right thing. They fed everybody. They got a nice turkey meal in for everyone, because it was Christmas. Everyone said, “Okay, we will be in Bermuda later on this evening. We will be all right.”

Guess what? A part was brought in from Toronto, and it was the wrong part. No go. What did they do? They said, “We are further delayed. We have to get another part.”

The fact is there were no other aircraft to bring in that part. They did not tell the people that. At 9 o'clock at night, they finally announced, “Ladies and gentlemen, we regret to inform you that the flight to Bermuda is now cancelled.”

I was very fearful for the customer agent. She immediately broke into tears, because these people were verbally violent towards her. They were very, very angry. They demanded to see the managers. And where were the managers? They were at home, enjoying Christmas.

That is just one example of many I could tell from my experience in the airline industry. If they had only told the people the honest truth, yes, they would have been disappointed, but the fact is they would have understood. It was a legitimate mechanical problem. Because of the Christmas schedule and the crew times and everything, they would have understood that they simply would not be able to do it that day.

At least they could have gone home or gone somewhere to enjoy that Christmas day and flown out the following day, which they did. Why did they have to mislead them time and time again?

When I leave today, there might be a flight scheduled to leave at 2:30 p.m. They want everyone on that aircraft at least 10 minutes prior to departure. Everyone up, doors bolted down, let us go. But there is a very good chance, in many cases, that at about 2:15 p.m., we will not have boarded yet. There will be no announcements, no signs. People will be saying, “What is going on here? Should we not have already boarded?” Sure enough, they will already be into a delay. Why do they not come out and say something?

During the hassles in Halifax a couple of Christmases ago, people demanded to see the managers. It was during the daytime. There were tremendous lineups because of the weather problems. They were told, “Here is the 1-800 number for your customer service.” The agents were too busy, so people wanted to speak to the managers. Where were the managers? They were upstairs on the third floor, not wanting to come out of their offices.

This passenger airline bill of rights would once and for all tell the people who buy the tickets, use their hard-earned money to travel on business or vacation that this House has turned around and respected their will.

As an airline agent, I have seen customer service go to all-time low levels. If the airlines stopped nickel-and-diming their customers and treated them with respect, we would not have to have a bill of rights. But because of what the airlines have done to customers in this country, we are following the lead. My hon. colleague from Elmwood—Transcona is right. We want to follow the lead of the Americans and Europeans to make sure our customers are treated with the respect, dignity and the honour they deserve. It is no less and no more than that.

As an airline employee for 18 and a half years, I was proud to serve my airline and proud to serve the customers. The fact is that as a frequent traveller myself, I have witnessed the diminishing of customer service. It is time to bring it back, and this bill of rights will do just that.

Air Passengers' Bill of RightsPrivate Members' Business

May 8th, 2009 / 1:20 p.m.
See context

Nepean—Carleton Ontario

Conservative

Pierre Poilievre ConservativeParliamentary Secretary to the Prime Minister and to the Minister of Intergovernmental Affairs

Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to rise today to contribute to the debate on the private member's bill introduced by the member for Elmwood—Transcona.

This government shares the member's concern over travellers' best interests. We understand there are sometimes stresses associated with air travel, particularly around holidays. The combination of an increased number of travellers and the harsh winter weather can often cause grief for travellers, airlines and airports alike.

This past winter, weather-related delays were all too common for far too many. That said, in a winter country such as ours, it seems unfair to punish airline companies for factors beyond their control. That is what this bill would do.

At the outset, before the member becomes too excited, let me share with him some good news. There is a high degree of support for the intent of this bill. No one has spoken against the desire to continue to improve consumer protection. In fact, I commend the member for his passion in that area, and I commend the member for bringing this debate forward, as well as other members who have done the same.

At the same time, several members, as I just pointed out, in the last Parliament unanimously passed a motion by the member for Humber—St. Barbe—Baie Verte on similar issues. There is a strong degree of consensus from all members that something needs to be done.

With that in mind, during the first hour of debate on this bill many members have also indicated they have some reservations about this bill. For example, the Liberal member for Eglinton—Lawrence said:

Is the European experience the one to follow? Is the American experience the one to follow? Is it one that would nurture the business that would stimulate the Canadian economy and at the same time ensure we enjoy a level of service that everyone should take for granted?

These are all good questions from my Liberal colleague. They are excellent questions, in fact, but I would suggest they should be raised in the broader context of looking at the different experiences around the world. One, for example, is the European system, on which I believe this bill is to some degree modelled. The problem with it is that its penalties go beyond those in the European Union.

The Americas, I would remind the House, have no such penalties for delays or other passenger inconveniences. Under the open skies regime that has been in place for several years now, consumers have enjoyed greater choice. More U.S. airlines have increased their service to Canada and Canadian cities.

However, if this bill were to pass, we could expect to see the number of American carriers serving in Canada decrease. They would have to weigh the costs and the benefits of serving the Canadian market and the risks that would certainly increase as a result of penalties included in this bill. Is that what we want for Canadian consumers, to reduce competition and therefore consumer choice?

On this side of the House we want better service, but with this bill we risk decreasing the competition that can lead to that better service.

These are just a few of the concerns that come to mind when we remember the excellent questions posed by members opposite.

On this side of the House, the Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Transport, Infrastructure and Communities pointed out that it is not only airline industry stakeholders that have strong reservations about this bill, the tourism industry has the same kinds of reservations. They both believe this bill is too narrow and punitive and that it could have serious impacts on the overall economy.

There are many potential pitfalls in this bill. I do not believe it has been carefully enough debated at this point, nor do I think that the advice and input of stakeholders is contained in the final product. We need to listen to consumers, to the industry and to experts on travel and tourism as we move forward.

We want to do more to protect consumers, and I believe the hon. member who sponsored this bill does want to do more.

There should be appropriate consultations with industry and consumers. This would ensure a good balance between a strong consumer protection regime on the one hand and continued viability for the airline industry on the other.

The fact is the measures put forward in Bill C-310 raise some serious concerns for Canadians. They have the possibility to hurt airlines in our country and put Canadian jobs at risk. We need to be mindful of this in a time of economic uncertainty. Punitive measures, like the ones outlined in the bill, will not solve the problem. Paying the passengers $500 for every hour their plane is stuck on the tarmac does not get the plane up in the air any faster. It seems especially punitive when we consider that many of these delays are associated with weather and are outside the control of the airline or the airport. It is not fair to risk air carriers and put them out of business because Canada happens to be a country where we have severe weather conditions.

I know this legislation is based upon the model put forward in Europe. However, solutions like these may be appropriate across the ocean, on a different continent, but not in a country that gets blizzards and severe thunderstorms in summer, as we do. Not only is our weather severe, I am sure the member and his colleagues opposite would agree, it is also fairly unpredictable in Canada.

I know all members in the House would like to find ways to promote air passengers' rights. We have all heard the horror stories. In fact, we have all lived these horrors stories. As members of Parliament, we are all travellers, by necessity of our job. However, at the same time, we have to ask ourselves whether the bill before us is the best way to deal with the problem.

Our government is open to suggestions on how to improve air travel for Canadians. I am looking forward to hearing the ideas that are brought forward in this debate.

Earlier this week, we saw the four major airlines, Air Canada, Air Transat, Jazz air and WestJet, through the National Airlines Council of Canada, come forward with major changes to increase airline passenger rights in our country by leaps and bounds. This proposal follows the flight rights program that was introduced by our government in 2008. It takes the voluntary codes outlined in the program and makes them a binding part of the tariffs. This is a good first step, and I think all members would agree that that is a good first step.

We are encouraged by such positive action taken by the industry. It is always good to see an industry or a private company step up to the plate and take the necessary action to fix the problem. We look forward to working with the airline industry and with airports to ensure that these are enforced and abided.

Although the member for Elmwood—Transcona should be commended for his dedication to protecting the Canadian air traveller, a bill with such wide-reaching implications for the travel industry and our economy should require further consultation with stakeholders.

I hope members will join with me in voting against this bill in particular. I urge them to join with me in working toward a better system for passengers' rights.

Once again, I will reiterate that our government is very much interested in hearing additional thoughts from the member for Elmwood—Transcona. He has clearly put a lot of time and effort into the subject. Though we have come to different conclusions than has he, I believe he has much to contribute to this debate. We thank him for advancing his bill.

Air Passengers' Bill of RightsPrivate Members' Business

May 8th, 2009 / 1:30 p.m.
See context

Conservative

Colin Mayes Conservative Okanagan—Shuswap, BC

Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to rise to contribute to the debate on Bill C-310, An Act to Provide Certain Rights to Air Passengers.

This bill was introduced by the member for Elmwood—Transcona, and at the outset, I would like to commend him for the intent of this bill. All members, including those on this side of the House, share his concern for strong consumer protection, whether for airline passengers or for other consumers.

Pressure has been mounting from many different sources for parliamentarians to address consumers' complaints against the airline industry. As a member of the Standing Committee on Transport, Infrastructure and Communities, I can tell the House that we have received a number of pieces of correspondence from airline industry representatives and other Canadians regarding this issue, and this private member's bill in particular.

Complaints have become even more frequent and action is more urgently needed. Given the delays many air travellers have faced in the past two Christmas seasons, and by the travellers who encountered difficulty in leaving Mexico following the H1N1 crisis, while many of their stories are unfortunate, both of these instances serve as reminders that there are many aspects of air travel, including blizzards and outbreaks of disease, which are completely out of our control.

The bill before us proposes that we address these concerns by imposing a range of obligations on air carriers, as well as stiff penalties should the carriers fail to meet those obligations.

The bill is well meaning for consumers, in the sense that it clearly intends to address some of the concerns that they have raised, but well meaning is where it ends. Its appeal to populism is punitive and it is potentially devastating to Canada's airline industry.

This bill would place some very serious financial constraints and penalties on airlines in this country. We on this side of the House have a duty to be mindful of this during a time of economic uncertainty.

At the transport committee, we have heard from a number of airlines and other industry representatives, many of whom believe that Bill C-310 is highly punitive and will cause adverse consequences. For example, the Air Transport Association of Canada, which has approximately 185 members, had this to say about Bill C-310:

The financial “compensation” paragraphs of Bill C-310...bears no relationship to the economic realities of air transport in Canada. Where is the equality in paying a customer who purchased a $99.00 ticket to Florida $1200.00 in “compensation”? Canada has an open market place. If a particular carrier routinely delays or cancels flights there generally are alternatives available to customers. There are no similar strictures on other transport modes that have delays or cancellations. Why air transport? Why not let passengers vote with their wallets?

The Air Transport Association of Canada went on to say that if this legislation moves forward, we can expect to see the following consequences: it will lower passenger safety in Canada by encouraging more risk taking; air carriers will have to increase ticket prices substantially in order to recover costs contemplated by this bill; and service to some communities, mostly remote, and segments of the population, for example, unaccompanied children, will be reduced or eliminated.

These serious concerns from industry should make it very obvious that this legislation was drafted without consultation with the industry.

There is an old saying that we should beware of what we wish for. Should we pass this legislation, I believe we may well find that consumers will not be better off. In fact, they may face bigger problems.

There are many unanswered questions still lingering about this bill. What would it cost for the airline industry to implement the provisions? What would the consequences of their implementation be? Who would enforce these provisions? Because of this uncertainty, our government cannot support this bill.

We have heard from industry. The Canadian Airports Council specifically said, “Passage of C-310 would directly add costs to air carriers that would have to be passed on to consumers”. This is counter to the intention of the bill. Consumers would not be better off with higher fares.

I would also point out that if Canada were to adopt the provisions in Bill C-310, we would be seriously out of sync with the regulatory regimes of our trading partners at a time when we should be seeking regulatory harmony.

The penalties in the bill are harsher than those in the European Union air passenger bill of rights. The United States, our largest trading partner, does not impose such strict obligations and harsh penalties on its carriers.

The member for Elmwood—Transcona has at heart the same interest that we share on this side of the House. We all want better consumer protection for air travellers, but ultimately, the bill before us would not serve the best interest of the consumer. This bill would almost certainly result in the unintended consequences of fewer choices and higher prices. Moreover, it could produce an air transportation system that is less safe.

We need a more thoughtful and nuanced approach to passengers' rights. I am sure that members on both sides of the House join me in supporting the intent of the bill. However, due to its adverse consequences, I would ask that all members join me in voting against Bill C-310.

Air Passengers' Bill of RightsPrivate Members' Business

May 8th, 2009 / 1:40 p.m.
See context

NDP

Jim Maloway NDP Elmwood—Transcona, MB

Mr. Speaker, things have developed much the way I expected they would with the bill. We have just heard two speeches from members opposite who basically regurgitated all of the misinformation the airlines council has been trying to get out, I would say more unsuccessfully than not.

I know members are used to one-page private member's bills, but this is only 11 pages long. The bill is very simple to read and I am going to go through some of the exemptions we gave to the airlines, but obviously those members do not recognize them as such.

I sent a letter to one of the newspapers the other day and I sent a copy to MPs today. The letter reads:

There is a great deal of misinformation about the air passenger bill of rights being circulated by Canada's airlines in a bid to scare the public. I would like to set the record straight on a few key points.

Currently, there are no provisions for monetary compensation for flight delays in Bill C-310.

The Conservatives say there are monetary penalties and compensation for flight delays. There are none.

However, the Bill does require, in case of delay of two hours or more, that the airline provide meals and refreshments.

That is reasonable.

If a delay requires an overnight stay, accommodation and local transportation must be provided.

That is reasonable, and is already done in many cases.

The passenger also has the option of receiving a full refund for a delay of five hours or more.

That is new. That is taken from the European Union legislation. I think it is reasonable that if people have been waiting for five hours and they want their money back, they should be able to get it back. Most people will not ask for their money back. Most people will stay and wait a few hours longer. Their bags are packed and they are ready to go. They will stay longer. Maybe at least the airline would be nicer to them, maybe give them an extra meal voucher to keep them there so that they will not cash in the ticket. However, people would have the right to get their money back after five hours and that is reasonable.

In the case of passengers who have had flights to Mexico cancelled by the airline, Bill C-310 would require the airline to offer reimbursement of the full fare, which some airlines are currently refusing to do. Under the extraordinary circumstances exclusion in the bill, airlines would not have to pay compensation, just refund the cost of the ticket.

Those great consumer advocates in the airlines, while making their big announcement on Monday, are refusing to give back fares that passengers have paid to go to Mexico as we speak. The bill would not offer any compensation. It would say to reimburse them the money, which is what they should do, but in terms of compensation, there is no compensation payable. Why? Because it is an extraordinary circumstance exclusion. Weather is an extraordinary circumstance as would be the flu situation in Mexico. There would not be compensation for those.

Overbooking involves airlines selling your seat to someone else. If you're not allowed to board a flight because your seat has been sold, why shouldn't you get $500, $800 or $1200 in compensation for the inconvenience? Air Canada has been paying customers these amounts for 4 years in Europe.

Actually, that has been occurring since 1991, but at a lower amount.

Why should Canadian passengers receive lesser treatment?

As regards the tarmac delays, airlines are given an exclusion if it is unsafe to disembark from the aircraft.

Why do they not recognize that?

As you can see, there is plenty of leeway for the airlines under the bill if they would take the time to read its provisions rather than trying to scare the public.

I am going to deal with the exclusions because that seems to be the key to this whole situation. All they have to do is look at subclause 4(c) on page 3 of the bill. It states:

(iii) the air carrier can prove that the cancellation of the flight was caused by extraordinary circumstances which could not have been avoided even if all reasonable measures had been taken.

We leave it wide open. The airlines do not have to pay a cent. If they follow the rules, they would not pay a cent in any event.

Let us deal with the tarmac delays. They love to get on this. Subclause 6(1)(d) states:

(d) an opportunity to disembark from the aircraft if it is possible to do so without causing any undue risk to the health or safety of the passengers or any other person or the safe operation of the aircraft or any other aircraft.

That is their exclusion. If it is a weather problem, they can say it is unsafe to get off the plane. What is the problem?

Air Passengers' Bill of RightsRoutine Proceedings

February 10th, 2009 / 10:20 a.m.
See context

NDP

Jim Maloway NDP Elmwood—Transcona, MB

moved for leave to introduce Bill C-310, An Act to Provide Certain Rights to Air Passengers.

Mr. Speaker, I rise today to introduce a private member's bill that would provide compensation to air passengers and a bill of rights protecting travellers in Canada.

The bill includes measures on compensation for overbooked flights, unreasonable tarmac delays, cancelled or delayed flights, the concern for late and misplaced luggage, and all-inclusive pricing by airline companies in their advertising.

The legislation is inspired by a European Union law, where overbookings have dropped significantly. Air Canada is already operating under the European laws in their flights to Europe. Why should an Air Canada customer receive better treatment in Europe than in Canada?

The bill of rights would ensure that passengers are kept informed of flight changes, whether they are delays or cancellations. The new rules would be posted in the airport and airlines would have to inform passengers of their rights and the process to file for compensation.

The changes are not meant to punish the airlines. If the airlines were to follow the rules, they would not have to pay $1 in compensation to travellers.

(Motions deemed adopted, bill read the first time and printed)