The Canadian Transportation Agency (CTA) fined Canada’s major airlines for hundreds of violations related to massive flight delays and cancellations last summer and in December.
Violations frequently relate to the failure to notify passengers of flight disruptions or to respond promptly to their claims for compensation.
Some passengers and industry experts say the fines, which typically range between $2,500 and $39,000, are little deterrent to misbehaving airlines.
“The fines are low,” said Ian Jack, spokesman for the Canadian Automobile Association (CAA), a nonprofit travel agency. “We haven’t seen the regulator really pull out a big stick on anything yet.”
The CTA, Canada’s transportation regulator, is responsible for enforcing the federal Air Passenger Protection Regulations (APPR).
Since the regulations came into effect in 2019, the agency has been inundated with tens of thousands of complaints that airlines are not following the rules.
The CTA imposed the largest fine – $126,000 – to Sunwing for 36 violations for failing to keep passengers informed during flight delays in December.
That month, a winter storm forced the airline to cancel 67 flightsdisrupting the plans of thousands of holidaymakers.
After Sunwing canceled their return flight Dec. 21, Mohammad Jazayeri and his wife Setareh Sajadi were stranded at their resort in Puerto Vallarta for another six days.
Jazayeri said the couple spent most of that time waiting for hours in the hotel lobby to find out if a flight had been booked.
“Communication was horrible,” said Jazayeri, who lives in North Vancouver, British Columbia. “It was a nightmare.… We didn’t know what was going to happen. [to] We.”
The couple eventually gave up on Sunwing and shelled out another $1,544 to fly home on another airline.
Based on his experience, Jazayeri believes the airline’s fine is not high enough to have an impact.
“It’s kind of a joke because $126,000 means nothing,” he said. “I think they should be fined an amount to relive the pain of all customers affected.”
$200 per offense
According to the CTA, Flair Airlines and WestJet committed the most flight disruption violations. WestJet set to acquire Sunwing in the coming weeks as part of a merger agreement.
Flair was fined $39,000 for 40 violations for failing to compensate passengers for flight delays last summer.
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Flair also fined $28,000 for 144 violations for failing to provide compensation for a flight disruption or an explanation of why it was denied within 30 days. The violations occurred between December 2021 and July 2022. The $28,000 fine equates to approximately $200 per violation.
“Two hundred dollars isn’t really enough,” Jack said.
WestJet fined $11,000 on 55 counts for the same violation in January 2022 – which also equals $200 per violation. The airline was later fined $112,800 for 122 counts of the same violation between July 2022 and early January.
Sunwing did not respond to requests for comment. WestJet and Flair airlines have said they are in compliance with the APPR. WestJet added that due to the scale of some flight disruptions, it was sometimes difficult to respond to compensation claims within 30 days and the CTA left no wiggle room.
Law professor Matt Malone said the CTA must use all the tools at its disposal to strengthen enforcement.
“The fines that the Canadian Transportation Agency can impose are intended to induce companies to comply with the regulations. That’s not really the case,” said Malone, an assistant professor at Thompson Rivers University in Kamloops, British Columbia.
CTA can issue a maximum penalty of $25,000 per offense.
Agency spokesman Tom Oommen said the fine amounts are according to their impact on travelersand that it is common practice to impose lower fines for first offences.
“Clearly we have signaled to the airlines that we are paying attention and … when we find violations they will be punished,” he said.
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Oommen said that instead of fines, the main purpose of the quasi-judicial CTA is to resolve passenger complaints – so that aggrieved travelers can obtain compensation.
“So we don’t need the power of fines to make sure airlines do the right thing for passengers.”
However, passengers who choose to file a complaint are waiting a long time as the CTA has a backlog of over 40,000 complaints.
“Justice delayed is justice denied,” Jack said. “This whole system is currently on life support. It’s not working the way it was supposed to.”
Jazayeri received $500 compensation from Sunwing for his flight disruption, but says the airline never responded to requests for reimbursement for his changed flight. He therefore filed a complaint last month with the CTA. In an e-mail, the agency told him that the wait could be longer than 18 months.
“This number scares everyone,” Jazayeri said. “What exactly is the problem? »
On Tuesday, Transport Minister Omar Alghabra announced additional funding of $75.9 million over three years for the CTA. He said the funds will be used to hire 200 employees who will focus exclusively on handling passenger complaints.
Ottawa gave the CTA $11 million last year for the same purpose, but the backlog has only grown.
As an additional measure, Alghabra said the government would introduce tougher air passenger protection regulations in the spring.