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Court rejects move to put passenger rights rules on hold pending appeal

A plane is silhouetted as it takes off from Vancouver International Airport in Richmond, B.C., on May 13, 2019. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jonathan Hayward
March 05, 2020 - 10:03 AM

The Federal Court of Appeal has dismissed an attempt by airlines to suspend the country's new passenger rights charter until an appeal of the regulations is heard.

A judge turned down a motion by the International Air Transport Association trade group — which counts Air Canada and WestJet Airlines Ltd. among its 300-odd members — and 13 other major carriers to freeze the traveller protections while the appeal is being dealt with.

Justice David Near said Tuesday the appellants did not show on a balance of probabilities that the rules would cause irreparable harm.

Tabled in May 2017, the passenger bill of rights aims to beef up compensation for travellers subjected to delayed flights and damaged luggage.

"I'm very glad the court made that decision," Transport Minister Marc Garneau said in an interview Wednesday. "We did our homework...and we tried to come up with something that we felt was fair to both passengers as well as to the airlines."

The issue came to the forefront after a 2017 incident in which two Montreal-bound Air Transat jets were diverted to Ottawa because of bad weather and were held on the tarmac for up to six hours, leading some passengers to call 911.

While some travellers and advocates say the rules allow for loopholes, the appellants argue the regulations exceed the Canadian Transportation Agency's authority and contravene the Montreal Convention, a multilateral treaty.

AirHelp, a Berlin-based passenger rights company, has said the exemptions for weather or mechanical malfunctions don't encourage airlines to avoid "so-called undiscovered issues" and allows them to sidestep compensation by pointing to malfunctions on the tarmac.

Other consumer rights advocates say getting monetary compensation is tough because it requires passengers to present evidence that is in the hands of the airline.

The rules rely on travellers filing complaints with airlines or, as a last resort, the Canadian Transportation Agency.

New complaints about air travel to the transportation watchdog have risen more than 800 per cent over the past four years, hitting 7,650 in 2018-19.

"Canadians are using them," Garneau said of the freshly delineated rights. "Sometimes they're having a different interpretation from the airlines and those things are getting worked out through the Canadian Transportation Agency.

Garneau characterized the ongoing limbo as "the shake-down period, and eventually we'll come out of that with everyone clearly understand(ing) those rules, based on precedent."

Transportation agency chair Scott Streiner has said he is satisfied with the airlines' overall efforts to comply with the first wave of rules and expected the same in the 2020.

The federal appeal court also granted a motion by passenger rights advocate Gabor Lukacs to intervene in the case.

"The proposed intervener would defend the interests of airline passengers in a way that the parties cannot...and that the proposed intervention would be of assistance to the court in deciding the appeal," the judge wrote.

“I am very pleased by the court’s ruling," Lukacs said. "This is a very significant judicial recognition of the work that we have been doing for the past 12 years."

The new rules allow passengers to be compensated up to $2,400 if they are bumped from a flight and receive up to $2,300 for lost or damaged luggage.

Compensation of up to $1,000 for delays and other payments for cancelled flights took effect on Dec. 15.

The International Air Transport Association did not immediately reply to a request for comment.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published March 4, 2020.

Companies in this story: (TSX:TRZ, TSX:AC)

With files from Jordan Press

Note to readers: This is a corrected story. An earlier version included Air Canada among the airlines moving to temporarily suspend the country's new passenger rights charter.

News from © The Canadian Press, 2020
The Canadian Press

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