Canada pushes to make airlines pay passengers for flight disruptions

Canada's Minister of Transport Omar Alghabra attends an announcement supporting Canada commercial space launches in Longueuil
Canada's Minister of Transport Omar Alghabra speaks as member of parliament Marc Garneau looks on during an announcement supporting Canada commercial space launches at the Canadian Space Agency in Longueuil, Quebec, Canada, January 20, 2023. REUTERS/Christinne Muschi

MONTREAL, April 24 (Reuters) - Airlines will have to compensate passengers for major service disruptions except in limited cases under proposed legislation, Canada's transport minister said on Monday as air-travel complaints in the country hit record levels.

Passenger complaints against airlines in Canada and other countries over lengthy delays or flight cancellations have risen as air traffic rebounded following the COVID-19 pandemic, especially during a period of peak congestion last summer.

Under the new proposal, the onus shifts to airlines which land or depart from Canada to compensate passengers, unless the carrier can prove otherwise, except in limited exceptions like snowstorms, Canadian Transport Minister Omar Alghabra said.

"This means there will be no more loopholes where airlines can claim a disruption is caused by something outside of their control or a security reason when it is not," Alghabra said.

"It will no longer be the passenger who will have to prove that he or she is entitled to compensation. It will now be the airline that will need to prove that it does not have to pay for it."

The Canadian Transportation Agency (CTA), a quasi-judicial tribunal responsible for enforcing existing passenger refund requirements, has said it has a backlog of more than 44,000 complaints, the highest on record.

The proposal - aimed at tightening existing consumer protection rules for air travel - is included in Canada's budget legislation, new details of which were provided by the transport minister on Monday.

Airlines could be charged a fee if they cannot resolve a complaint and it is then brought to the CTA, while new requirements will be announced in the next few weeks for delayed and lost baggage.

Some of the changes could take effect by the end of summer, while others would come by year's end, the minister said.

They were immediately challenged by some passenger rights' activists who argued they did not deliver improvements while airlines warned they could lead to higher fares.

Jeff Morrison, CEO of the National Airlines Council of Canada (NACC) which represents carriers like Air Canada (AC.TO), said it would be unfair to penalize airlines “for adhering to the highest standards of safety."

Alghabra defended the proposals, which he said are not meant to "demonize" airlines.

Reporting By Allison Lampert in Montreal and Ismail Shakil in Ottawa; Editing by Chizu Nomiyama

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