Canada to tackle overbooking on flights

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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 source, Reuters
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Transport Minister Marc Garneau says passenger rights legislation is coming soon

Canada has said it is taking steps to tackle airline overbooking, following an incident involving United Airlines.

Federal Transport Minister Marc Garneau said the government will put forward a passenger rights law this spring.

It is expected to include compensation rules for those denied boarding due to factors within the carrier's control.

Mr Garneau announced the plan last year, but restated it as footage of a US passenger being forcibly removed from a flight made global headlines.

The incident on Sunday evening's flight from Chicago to Louisville has been a public relations disaster for United Airlines.

A spokesman for Mr Garneau said he could not get into the specifics of the Air Travellers Passenger Rights Regime legislation before it is introduced to Parliament.

But in a November 2016 speech to Montreal's Chamber of Commerce, Mr Garneau said Canadian travellers report a sense of frustration at both the cost of air travel and confusion about their rights when flight problems arise.

The measure would "ensure that Canadians' rights are protected by rules that are both fair and clear", he said.

Image source, Jayse D. Anspach/Twitter
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A United Airline passenger is shown in a video being dragged out of his seat by flight security

In 2008, Canada introduced Flight Rights Canada, a voluntary code of conduct for airlines around passenger rights related to tarmac delays, flight cancellations and overbooking.

Under that code, if a plane is overbooked or cancelled, a carrier must either find the passenger a seat with another flight, buy the passenger a seat on another carrier with whom it has an agreement, or refund the unused portion of the ticket.

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

Ambarish Chandra, with the University of Toronto's Rotman School of Management, says that airlines bumping passengers is an "unavoidable" fact of air travel.

"I don't think the goal of legislation should be to eliminate bumping," he said, noting that having full flights helps keep ticket costs in check.

"But legislation does need to protect passengers and make very clear what passengers rights are in various situations."

Mr Garneau expects the rights legislation to be in place by 2018.