Story by Adrian Brijbassi
Vacay.ca Managing Editor
The Conservative Party may not be in support of the Air Passenger Bill of Rights, but an increasing number of Canadians are, according to José Nunez-Melo. He is the NDP Member of Parliament who introduced Bill C-459 in December and that proposed legislation has received plenty of attention this month following a deplorable flight delay aboard a Sunwing Airlines flight on February 8.
Passengers were kept on board for more than 13 hours as they waited to depart Toronto’s Pearson International Airport on a flight headed to Panama and Costa Rica. Since that debacle, public outrage has helped galvanize support for Nunez-Melo’s private member’s bill, but he says more public pressure is needed to sway the ruling Conservatives.
“Our offices started receiving many, many emails and letters and messages of support from the public after its recent hearing,” Nunez-Melo told me during an interview on Thursday afternoon.
Bill C-459 had a hearing in Parliament on February 7 and will be debated a second time on March 21 in front of the Standing Committee on Transport, Infrastructure and Communities. That committee is headed by Larry Miller, the Conservative MP for Ontario’s Bruce-Grey-Owen Sound riding. Miller has said he will be opposing the bill “because, at the end of the day, my big fear here is that it is going to drive up costs to the airlines and that in turn will drive up airfares.”
Nunez-Melo, however, insists that better business practices by airlines will save Canadians money, time and aggravation.
“Most of the delays are not weather or security matters, but operational problems from the airlines, things like pilots that are late, refuelling problems, delivery of the meals not being on time,” said the representative of Laval, Quebec. “It is the airline that has to be responsible for that, but when that happens, you don’t have any rights as a passenger.”
Flight Rights Canada, which was made into law in 2008, says airlines must offer meal vouchers to passengers on flights delayed four hours or more. For flights with delays of more than eight hours, the compensation includes an overnight stay at a hotel and transfer to and from the airport to the lodging. Many airlines also voluntarily add in coupons for passengers when they book their next flight. Sunwing Airlines passengers received $25 in meal vouchers and $150 coupon code when they book their next flight with the airline (should they choose to do so).
Time for Air Passenger Bill of Rights in Canada?
Nunez-Melo contends that the mandatory compensation offered to Canadian passengers is far too low and that the airlines need to be forced to do more for their customers. His bill doesn’t go as far as legislation in the United States, where the Department of Transportation can fine an airline $27,500 per passenger if a plane is delayed three hours and those aboard are not allowed to disembark. American Eagle Airlines received a $900,000 fine for an excessive tarmac delay in 2011.
On top of existing compensation for Canadian passengers, Bill C-459 — dubbed the Air Passenger Bill of Rights — would see up to $600 in compensation for fliers grounded because of cancellations or overbooking, the practice where airlines oversell their planes to mitigate against losses due to cancellations. Airlines would also be required to give passengers timely updates on issues related to delays and misplaced luggage. In Europe, travellers have enjoyed protections since 2005 and Americans continue to see more consumer protections through that nation’s Air Passenger Rights legislation.
“Canada is far behind the world when it comes to this kind of law,” said Nunez-Melo, who updated a proposed bill introduced in 2009. In revamping that rejected bill, Nunez-Melo said, “We were more precise, we rephrased many paragraphs, and now here we have something that is very clear, that says the airline will have some responsibility to the consumer over delays that are not to do with weather conditions.”
Although his experiences with Canadian airlines have not been alarmingly negative, Nunez-Melo feels the lack of oversight for the industry will continue to affect consumer satisfaction. While Air Canada and Westjet, the nation’s largest airlines, have reported record numbers of passengers in recent months, their on-time performances (OTP) are poor. Westjet, once one of the world’s outstanding carriers when it came to OTP, has fallen significantly as it pushed its fleet to fly more often. Its OTP, which measures flights that land within 15 minutes of their scheduled arrival time, dropped from 78% in 2011 to 64% in 2012, according to FlightStats.com. Air Canada, one of the worst OTP carriers among major airlines in the world, showed a 52% rating in 2012.
“As soon as you book a flight, you get your reservation and you pay your bill and what comes to you is the e-ticket, and at the same time they send you a contract, and in that contract it clearly states they don’t have any responsibility should there be delays or flight problems,” Nunez-Melo said. “You are already intimidated and in a position where you say, ‘Oh, my God, where are my rights?'”
[box_info]What are your thoughts? Are you supporting Bill C-459, aka the Air Passenger Bill of Rights? Email firstname.lastname@example.org with your comments.
To support the bill, email your Member of Parliament and NDP MP José Nunez-Melo (email@example.com). [/box_info]