Mr. Speaker, I rise to speak in favour of Motion No. 465, moved by the member for Humber—St. Barbe—Baie Verte.
Members of the House should realize that this motion is actually motivated by events that happened in Newfoundland during Christmas, 2007 and again in central Canada during reading week in 2008. In both cases Canada's airlines were flying full airplanes during a peak travel period. Indeed, in both cases severe storms closed major airports and resulted in hundreds and hundreds of flight cancellations. Because of the huge numbers of people travelling, the airlines had real trouble finding empty seats on other flights in order to accommodate the passengers from the cancelled flights. In some cases the airlines actually removed luggage from their airplanes in order to be able to carry as many extra passengers as possible. In another case one of the airlines actually added three extra wide-body jets for flights to one destination in a desperate effort to clear the backlog.
No jurisdiction anywhere has passed legislation that would force airlines to operate in a storm, or to bump paying passengers in order to accommodate other paying passengers from a weather cancelled flight.
This motion proposes a Canadian airline passenger bill of rights based either on the European model or U.S. legislation that has been proposed.
European regulation No. 261/2004 establishes common rules on compensation and assistance to passengers in the event of denied boarding and of cancellation or long delay of flights, and deals with the very concerns raised in this particular motion, and it has the force of law. I will refer to it as the European charter. It deals with denied boarding, delays and cancellations.
Curiously though, the European charter does not deal with luggage at all. In that sense it does not address one of the most significant complaints of the Newfoundlanders whose Christmas nightmares prompted Mayor Woodrow French and Mayor Graham Letto to call for this motion.
Furthermore, article 5(3) of the European charter takes away a passenger's right to compensation if the airline is forced to cancel a flight due to extraordinary circumstances which could not have been avoided even if all reasonable measures had been taken. Extraordinary circumstances clearly include weather conditions that are incompatible with the operation of the flight.
The European Directorate-General for Energy and Transport stresses the importance of flight safety in evaluating weather as an extraordinary circumstance. It states:
Weather conditions are by their nature unpredictable and it is not therefore possible to create an exhaustive list of the circumstances that may lead to weather related disruption. In evaluating an incident, [one] has to bear in mind that the safety of flight operations has to be the overarching priority and should therefore consider each incident on its own merits.
The Canadian approach is similar in that it recognizes, for this government especially, that safe operation of the aircraft is absolutely paramount. In fact, Canada's air transportation regulations specifically excuse “delays due to weather conditions affecting safety or abnormal operating conditions”.
However, the motion also refers to legal instruments being either proposed or enacted by jurisdictions within the United States for the purpose of protecting passenger rights.
The major advocate of airline passenger rights in the United States is Kate Hanni, president of the Coalition for an Airline Passengers' Bill of Rights. She is very familiar with existing airline passenger rights in the U.S. and understands that a European style bill of rights is not what North America needs. Her 11 point bill of rights focuses almost entirely on providing relief to people stranded for hours on an airplane. The only other major new idea is to compensate bumped passengers, or passengers delayed due to flight cancellations or postponements of over 12 hours, by refund of 150% of the ticket price.
Although there are various legislative proposals in the United States, none at this time have the force of law. I repeat: none. The only one ever to be passed by a legislature, specifically New York state, dealt almost exclusively with rights for passengers detained on an aircraft prior to takeoff or after landing.
Before members of Parliament spend a lot of time examining legislation in other countries, it would probably be very helpful to look at the current Canadian situation.
First, after researching this, I will note that it is important to understand that Canadian air travellers have more legislated rights than travellers in any other country in the world. That is right: currently we have more legislated rights than anywhere else in the world.
Further, through the passage of Bill C-11 just recently, the government has strengthened the complaints provisions in the Canada Transportation Act and requires airlines to publish their tariffs or the terms and conditions of carriage for both domestic and international travel. The Canada Transportation Act requires Canadian airlines to actually file their tariffs with the Canadian Transportation Agency. This makes those tariffs legally binding.
The United States does not have a realm of legally binding passenger rights at this time. The European realm has inconsistent enforcement and, as I said, does not cover baggage claims. In practical terms, Canadian travellers already have far more rights, with better enforcement, than travellers in either the United States or Europe.
Canadian travellers currently have the following rights. I would like to go through them. First, there is compensation for denied boarding. Second, there is compensation for flight cancellations. Third, there is care during delays. Fourth, there is compensation for lost or delayed baggage.
First, on compensation for denied boarding, in order to be eligible for denied boarding compensation a passenger has to meet the airline's minimum check-in time. In a situation where an aircraft is oversold or a smaller aircraft is substituted at the last minute, it is the practice of Canada's airlines to call for volunteers to take a later flight. Indeed, typically a volunteer will be offered a credit for future travel of $100 or more as well as transport on a later flight.
If there are not enough volunteers, though, passengers may be denied boarding on an involuntary basis. Here, the passenger is typically offered free transport on another flight or a refund of the fare paid. In cases where the airline's next flight is not relatively soon, the carrier will often try to get the passenger a seat on another airline flight, even if that seat costs more than the passenger paid.
Where a passenger must wait another day to take the airline's next flight, the carrier will pay for meals, hotel accommodation and airport transfers as necessary. I know this because it recently happened to me. The carrier was very accommodating.
Second is compensation for flight cancellations. If a Canadian airline cancels a flight, the airline will undertake to ensure that the passenger is routed or transported to his or her ultimate destination as per the contract of carriage, within a reasonable period of time and at no extra cost to the traveller. If this cannot be done, the passenger is actually offered credit for a future flight or a full refund.
Third is care during delays. If the delay is within the carrier's control, such as a mechanical problem, the carrier will pay for meals as well as a hotel stay and airport transfers if appropriate.
Finally, there is compensation for lost or delayed baggage. If an airline loses a passenger's baggage, it will pay provable damages or a minimum financial compensation. The actual amounts vary by airline, but in each case the full legal details are contained in the airline's tariffs. They have the force of law in Canada and they are enforced by the Canadian Transportation Agency.
In conclusion, even though Bill C-11 received royal assent a year ago, most Canadians do not know what the rights of air passengers are or how to go about enforcing those rights. Thus, as a result of the passage of this motion and the support by this Conservative government, Canada will take steps to publicize passenger rights of Canadians and the ways to enforce those rights. This is good news for Canadians.