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Feds considering creating an airline bill of rights

Oct. 8, 2013, Ottawa - The director of a lobby group representing Canadian airlines says he welcomes any discussions about an airline passenger bill of rights — a proposal rumoured to be announced in the next speech from the throne — as long as it's a reasonable plan.


October 8, 2013
By CBC News

"That can take many forms, but there has to be some sort of
proportionality, some sort of reasonableness," said Marc-André O'Rourke,
the director of the National Airlines Council of Canada.

But what's considered reasonable by the lobby group and the airlines
may differ greatly from what the government's proposing and what
opposition MPs and consumer advocates have called for in the past. 

The idea of an airline passenger bill of rights follows high-profile
stories of passengers stranded for hours in planes on airport runways or
passengers bumped from flights because of overbooking. CBC News reported on Monday about a Vancouver Island couple
who had their Air Canada flight seats given to other passengers on an
overbooked flight, leaving them stranded at the gate and unable to get
home to their small children. 

 

Although the Conservatives have shot down previous attempts to
create a passenger bill of rights, the National Post recently reported
that the government may be softening its stance as part of a "consumer
first" strategy. In an email to CBC News, a spokesman for Transportation
Minister Lisa Raitt said they wouldn't "comment on speculation." 

 

But former Manitoba New Democrat MP Jim Maloway, who in 2009 tried
unsuccessfully to pass a airline passengers bill of rights, said he's
taking a wait and see approach on what the Tories might offer.

'May have no teeth'

"The air passenger bill of rights that they bring in may have no
teeth whatsoever," said Maloway, who now sits as an MLA for the Manitoba
legislature. 

 

"I may be happy with what they bring in or I may be in a position to
be able to say 'This is nothing. They really haven't moved the bar.'"

 

Maloway's bill included set compensation rates for passengers
inconvenienced by overbooked flights, cancelled flights and what he
deemed as unreasonable flight delays.

 

For example, his bill proposed that customers delayed on a plane for
more than an hour while still on the runway would have been entitled to
receive compensation of $500 for each additional hour they were
detained.

 

Travellers would also be offered $500 if they were bumped
from flights of 1,500 kilometres or less; $800 for flights between 1,500
and 3,500 kilometres and $1,200 for flights of 3,500 kilometres or
more.

 

Airlines slammed his bill and it was shot down by both the Tories and the Bloc. George Petsikas
, president of the National Airlines Council of Canadians, told CBC News
at the time that some of Maloway's proposed penalties were "outlandish"
given the economic climate. And in a letter to MPs, he wrote that
"the compensation requirements are grossly punitive and do not recognize
the cost/revenue environment that air carriers face today."

 

To counter Maloway's bill, the airlines proposed their own set of
rules, known as tariffs. These binding rules included giving passengers
meal vouchers if they were delayed for four hours or more
and paying passenger accommodations if flights were delayed overnight.

 

But New Democrat MP Jose Nunez-Melo thought that those rules weren't
tough enough and decided to renew the fight, submitting his own proposed
passenger bill of rights in 2011.

 

Nunez-Melo's bill was similar Maloway's and proposed that passengers
stranded on the runway for more than an hour should receive electric
generation service to provide temporary power for fresh air, heat and
lights; waste removal service and adequate food and drinking water and
other refreshments.

Passengers would receive $100 for each hour those obligations were not met, according to his proposed bill.

 

He also proposed overbooking compensation of $250 for those bumped
from flights of 1,500 kilometres or less, $400 for all flights between
1,500 and 3,500 kilometres and $600 for flights of 3,500 kilometres or
more.

Canada is 'backwards'

Nunez-Melo said that Canada is "backwards" when it comes to rights
for passengers and needs get in line with other jurisdictions.

 

In the U.S, the compensation is as much as $680 of the airfare for
delays less than two hours, and as much as $1,360 for delays over two
hours. In the European Union, the compensation ranges from $175 to $835,
depending on the length of the flight and the delay caused to
passengers.


In a speech to Parliament, Pierre Poilievre, then
parliamentary secretary to the minister of transportation, noted that
there were only 518 complaints out of 78.4 million passenger flights
travelled.