Mr. Speaker, my colleague's bill addresses a significant need in Canada regarding the rights of air passengers.
This issue can affect all Canadians, anyone who uses air travel. Indeed, some problems that can arise during a flight do not happen in other forms of travel. Whether it involves a cancelled or delayed flight, lost baggage, or if boarding is denied, these things can happen to anyone.
Many incidents can arise during air travel. Accordingly, passengers' rights need to be protected any time airlines are treating their passengers unfairly. Compensation rules and requirements for the carriers need to be imposed in order to ensure that travellers are not put at a disadvantage.
The bill 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.
These rights apply in certain situations. First of all, when a flight is cancelled, passengers have the right to be reimbursed or re-routed to their final destination. They are entitled to meals based on the length of the delay, and to accommodation, if necessary. They are entitled to compensation in the amount of $250 to $600, unless the flight is cancelled due to extraordinary circumstances or if passengers agree to be re-routed.
Second, when travellers are denied boarding as a result of overbooking on the part of an airline, passengers are entitled to compensation in the amount of $250 to $600, as well as any benefits offered by the airline.
Third, when a flight is delayed, passengers are entitled to meals and refreshments in a reasonable relation to the waiting time, as well as accommodation, if necessary.
Fourth, when baggage is misplaced, passengers are entitled to $500 in compensation.
Fifth, when the advertised price is wrong, airlines must include all costs to be assumed by the airline, as well as all duties, fees and taxes that they collect on behalf of other parties.
This bill takes a page from European legislation that has been in place for several years. It must be said that we are lagging far behind in that respect. European regulations establish compensation for passengers when they have problems with air transportation.
If a flight is overbooked or cancelled, the passenger is entitled to financial compensation. Airlines are always required to provide assistance.
This month, the European Commission announced a number of measures to provide air passengers with new rights and better access to good information and assistance when they are stranded at an airport.
New procedures to handle complaints and new enforcement measures are also included in order for passengers to obtain what they are entitled to. Oversight of airlines by domestic and European authorities will be strengthened.
Even persons with disabilities are better served under the rules established by the European Union. The regulations adopted in 2006 are based on the simple principle that persons with disabilities should have the same opportunity to travel by air.
The regulations on the rights of people with reduced mobility when using air transport prohibits operators from refusing to make a reservation or board passengers because of a disability. However, there are some exceptions due to safety reasons established by law.
The person with reduced mobility must be informed of the refusal, together with the reasons, within five days of making the reservation.
Persons with disabilities are also entitled to obtain, from airport authorities, free assistance at airports and aboard aircraft. These services are funded by a levy collected from the airline companies. European Union countries also impose penalties and have independent organizations to deal with complaints.
This is the approach we should take in Canada, given how successful the common rules for the compensation of air passengers instituted by the European Union in 2004 have been.
If Europeans have such rights, then Canadians should have them too. Europeans do not hesitate to exercise their rights when they feel they have a valid complaint against an airline.
Whether passengers have been denied boarding or downgraded, or their flight has been significantly delayed or cancelled, these are forms of abuse, and we must legislate to prevent them from happening again. If people think that they have a legitimate complaint against an airline because they have been denied boarding or downgraded, or their flight has been significantly delayed or cancelled, they must be able to exercise their rights without any hesitation.
It is simply a matter of logic. Travellers should receive a refund or compensation for their trip if it is cancelled. Consequently, travellers must have access to clear rules regarding refunds or compensation in the event that the airline changes their travel itinerary without two weeks' notice. Otherwise, many Canadian families' vacations will end up being disrupted simply because of an airline's bad practices.
If airlines do not honour their commitments, they must compensate travellers. This bill is a good approach in terms of respectful relations between airlines and travellers.
We need to put rules in place to protect the rights of consumers by working with airlines. Quite frankly, some airlines have really good practices. Others, however, quite commonly engage in practices that are harmful to consumers, such as overbooking and cancelling flights.
When such situations occur, it is important to ensure that travellers are compensated by the airline. Reasonable compensation for travellers would be provided depending on the situation and the damage done, without creating false expectations on the part of the traveller.
It is true that some airlines already have good compensation practices in place, but that is not the case for all of them. This bill would penalize only the airlines that take advantage of consumers.
It is common practice among some airlines to offer refunds only to passengers who are refused boarding. When flights are overbooked, which happens often, people are not usually reimbursed. Bill C-459 would also provide compensation to passengers who end up in that situation, based on the distance of the flight in question.
I already hear the Conservatives saying that no one can control the weather, that not all the blame can be put on the airlines and that some of the responsibility lies elsewhere.
That is why this bill allows for exceptions when it is not the airline's fault. For example, passengers will not receive compensation in the case of a cancelled flight caused by extraordinary circumstances that could not have been avoided. In the case of extraordinary circumstances, airlines do not have to provide the compensation set out in Bill C-459.
That is the essence of the bill that would create a fairer relationship between passengers and airlines, something that has existed in Europe for many years. It will be particularly beneficial to middle-class Canadian families and SME owners. Whether we are talking about a family vacation, a business trip or any other kind of travel, passengers will not end up powerless and will have rights.
There is currently a serious legislative gap to be filled, and the bill introduced by my colleague from Laval fills the major gap we have in Canada. We must ultimately ensure that passengers are properly compensated when there is a problem at the airport.