Report calls proposed air passenger rules 'inhumane' as consultations wrap up

Proposed rules around air passenger rights are “inhumane” and will deprive travellers of proper compensation, according to a new report.

Advocacy group Air Passenger Rights says would-be regulations that allow airlines to keep passengers on the tarmac for up to three hours and 45 minutes are “unacceptable” and grant more than twice the time permitted under European Union legislation.

The rules impose no obligation on airlines to pay customers for delays or cancellations if they were caused by mechanical problems discovered in a pre-flight check, rather than during scheduled maintenance.

Group founder Gabor Lukacs also argues the criteria for monetary compensation are extremely tough to meet, often requiring passengers to present evidence that is in the hands of the airline.

“The proposed regulations leave the impression of an instrument written by the airlines to ensure that in most cases, airlines will have to pay no compensation to passengers, while creating the facade of a consumer protection legislation,” the report states.

Unlike in the EU, the onus would be on passengers rather than the airline to prove that a prolonged flight delay, cancellation or denial of boarding was “within the carrier’s control” and not required for safety, Lukacs said.

Demonstrating that circumstance would require access to corporate information such as crew assignment databases and aircraft maintenance logs, leaving compensation effectively out of reach, he said.

“In Europe, the burden of proof is on the airline…In Canada, it is the passengers who have to prove that it is not extraordinary circumstances, which is impossible to prove,” Lukacs said in an interview.

The report, which cites more than 8,000 emails protesting the proposed rules, came on the final day of consultations around air passenger protection regulations under the Canadian Transportation Act, which passed last May.

The Canadian Transportation Agency and an airline lobby group did not respond immediately to requests for comment.

Last month, a passenger rights company highlighted the loophole through which airlines could sidestep compensation by pointing to malfunctions on the tarmac.

“If you incentivize them to not have any problems at the pre-flight check, you decrease the risk of undiscovered issues,” Christian Nielsen, chief legal officer of AirHelp, told The Canadian Press in January.

“The issue is that aircraft that are part of regular maintenance are not operating, they’re not in the rotation, so they will almost never lead to a delay of a scheduled flight.”

Barring any loopholes, the government’s passenger bill of rights would see travellers who are bumped from overbooked flights or forced to sit through long delays receive up to $2,400 in compensation.

The proposed compensation will use a sliding scale, with larger airlines and longer delays requiring bigger compensation payments. Payments to passengers whose flights are delayed or cancelled will max out at $1,000, with up to $2,400 owing to those who are denied boarding due to over-booking.

In addition to compensation, the proposed rules would also require airlines to provide delayed passengers with food, beverages and accommodation.

Christopher Reynolds, The Canadian Press