US & Canada

Canada government tables airline passenger bill of rights

The Honourable Marc Garneau, Minister of Transport, speaks to the media while he and his cabinet take part in a two-day Liberal retreat in Calgary, Alberta, Canada January 24, 2017. Image copyright Reuters
Image caption Transport Minister Marc Garneau says passenger rights legislation is coming soon

Canada is moving to crack down on "shoddy treatment" and overbooking on flights.

Federal Transport Minister Marc Garneau has introduced legislation that will set national standard for how passengers are treated by airlines.

Mr Garneau says the bill will give the government the tools it needs to protect air travellers.

The proposed new rules will apply to any airline operating flights in and out of Canada.

The minister said the details related to passenger rights in instances like overbooking and bumping are still being developed but that there must be compensation in those cases.

"I am convinced the air carriers will take note of these new measures protecting passengers rights, and will know if they don't change some of their practices there will be repercussions," he said.

He said air carriers will not be able to involuntarily remove from flights people who have a legitimate right to travel.

"That is a critical factor. If somebody has bought a ticket for a particular flight that person cannot be removed from that flight. This is non negotiable."

The proposed rules would set minimum compensation standards for overbooked flights and lost or damaged luggage, and set out how airlines must treat passengers when a flight is delayed or cancelled in situation within the airline's control or during events like bad weather. It will also set standards for tarmac delays.

Mr Garneau announced plans for the rights bill last year, but restated the promise as footage of a US passenger being forcibly removed from a United Airlines flight made global headlines in April.

Canadian news has since been filled with stories of people coming forward with travel woes.

Image copyright Getty Images
Image caption Toronto's Pearson airport is Canada's busiest

Ian Jack, of the Canadian Automobile Association, which lobbies for passenger rights, said it is too early to say whether the minister's promises will mean better travel for passengers because the "devil is in the details".

The Canadian Transportation Agency (CTA) will establish the details such as levels of compensation and the rules around bumping over the next few months.

"The jury's out on whether they are going to be able to deliver," said Mr Jack.

"There's a big difference between the concept of compensation and whether you're going to be offered a coffee coupon or $750. That has still to be worked out."

The International Air Transport Association (IATA) says some 60 countries have some form of passenger rights protection already in place.

The CTA receives an average of about 50 complaints a year from passengers saying they were denied boarding.

Both the European Union and the US have compensation rules for passengers bumped from flights.

The federal government also said on Tuesday it plans to loosen international ownership restrictions in the industry to boost competition. The bill would allow international companies to own up to 49% of Canadian air carriers, up from a 25% cap.

The new rules are expected to be in place by 2018.

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