You arrive on time at the airport for a flight, only to find it has been cancelled and rebooked for the next day. Does the airline have to cover a hotel room? What about meals, transportation and other costs you may incur?
Without notifying the couple, the airline had rebooked them on the same flight one day later. Tired and upset, they stayed at a reasonably priced airport hotel and asked the airline for compensation when they got home.
Even if your flight is on time, you may find your baggage is damaged when you get to your destination. What are your rights to compensation? And when is a bag too big to carry onto an aircraft? Must you pay a fee to check it?
Each airline must have a set of terms and conditions, called a “tariff,” governing how it will treat passengers under its care. The Canadian Transportation Agency (CTA) wants to make these tariffs more accessible to the public. At its website, it posts a list of links to airline websites where tariffs can be found.
“There is often confusion on the part of passengers about what, if anything, they can expect from an airline if there are disruptions to their travel,” he told the Air Transport Association of Canada in a recent speech. This confusion can contribute to frustration. And frustration can mean customer relations issues for airlines. We need to do better.”
This fall, he wrote to the five largest domestic airlines — Air Canada, WestJet, Air Transat, Sunwing and Porter — asking them to turn their tariffs into plain language and post them prominently on their websites’ front pages.
“The five CEOs had a quite positive reaction,” he told me. “They need to communicate more clearly and be more transparent with consumers. They realize they have reputation issues if they don’t get on top of it.”
Streiner has cleared up a backlog of 200 complaints at the agency, which had led to frustrating delays in providing resolutions to consumers. Now he wants to make airlines finish their complaint investigations within 30 days.
Gabor Lukacs, an airline passenger rights advocate, has spent eight years filing complaints with the agency and trying to get stronger protection for consumers. He feels things are getting worse, not better.
“The agency has turned from an impartial arbiter into an advocate for the industry,” he said.
“Under Mr. Streiner’s leadership, the number of enforcement efforts has dropped to one quarter of the level of 2013-14, while the number of complaints has continued to soar, and agency staff have been turning away passengers with valid complaints, telling them that their file has been closed.”
“He’s a good leader for the organization,” he said of Streiner, pointing to innovations such as creating videos about passenger rights that can be shown at airports and telling MPs how to reach the CTA with their constituents’ complaints.
Meanwhile, the CTA will step up its efforts to attract complaints and look for systemic issues that could lead to a tougher law when it’s finally drafted.
Ellen Roseman’s column appears each week