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.