Faced with a bill in Parliament that would impose costs on airlines that keep passengers on board during tarmac delays, Canada’s largest airlines — Air Canada, Air Transat, Jazz Air LP, and WestJet — are trying to pre-empt the legislation by adding passenger rights to their contracts of carriage. The policies are a step forward, but they’re less that what would have been…
The airlines, through the National Airlines Council of Canada (NACC), made the submission as part of a bid to convince MPs to kill Bill C-310, a private member’s bill put forth by New Democratic Party MP Jim Maloway.
Maloway’s bill proposes that passengers kept on a plane for longer than one hour should receive compensation at a rate of $500 per hour.
The bill also calls for airlines to pay $1,200 to a passenger if they are bumped from a flight longer than 3,500 kilometres.
$500 per hour? Ouch! No wonder they’re trying to fend this off.
But instead, the fares filed by the consortium of airlines mirrors the watered-down proposal called “Flight Rights.” The Flight Rights code of conduct, proposed in September 2008 by the Canadian government. Instead of $500 per hour of delay, the counteroffer is a meal voucher. Seriously:
Passengers have a right to punctuality.
a) If a flight is delayed and the delay between the scheduled departure of the flight and the actual departure of the flight exceeds 4 hours, the airline will provide the passenger with a meal voucher.
b) If a flight is delayed by more than 8 hours and the delay involves an overnight stay, the airline will pay for overnight hotel stay and airport transfers for passengers who did not start their travel at that airport.
c) If the passenger is already on the aircraft when a delay occurs, the airline will offer drinks and snacks if it is safe, practical and timely to do so. If the delay exceeds 90 minutes and circumstances permit, the airline will offer passengers the option of disembarking from the aircraft until it is time to depart.
The “trapped passengers” angle is too narrow. As much as it makes for a great headline, it’s a rare occurrence, and not really where the “action” is. But the Flight Rights model doesn’t do much for passengers who are overbooked, a historically far more common phenomenon, either. The language doesn’t even guarantee transportation:
Passengers have a right to take the flight they paid for. If the plane is over-booked or cancelled, the airline must:
a) find the passenger a seat on another flight operated by that airline;
b) buy the passenger a seat on another carrier with whom it has a mutual interline traffic agreement; or
c) refund the unused portion of the passenger’s ticket.
So much for a “right.” And good luck getting b). Of those three options, airlines will likely choose a), even if times are inconvenient to the traveler, and then opt for c).
The Maloway bill is too harsh. But the airlines’ adoption of “Flight Rights” is too little. There’s still a middle ground, waiting to be claimed.
- Continental to allow passengers off planes after three hours’ delay
- State passenger bill-of-rights law struck down: Who needs food and water, anyway?
- Passenger rights movement regaining relevance?
- Good for the goose, good for the gander: Charge change fees to your airline?