Michael Pihach is an award-winning journalist with a keen interest in digital storytelling. In addition to PAX, Michael has also written for CBC Life, Ryerson University Magazine, IN Magazine, and DailyXtra.ca. Michael joins PAX after years of working at popular Canadian television shows, such as Steven and Chris, The Goods and The Marilyn Denis Show.
This may come as no surprise, but Canadians are becoming increasingly frustrated with the time it takes for the Canadian Transportation Agency (CTA) to resolve a complaint related to turbulent air travel.
CBC News, through an access to information request, recently obtained four client satisfaction surveys conducted by the CTA and the results show a rising level of dissatisfaction with air passenger compensation rules.
A 2019 survey shows that 25 per cent of passengers were either dissatisfied or very dissatisfied with the time it took for the CTA to process their complaint. That number jumped to 71 per cent in the 2022 survey, CBC reports.
The quasi-judicial agency has been dealing with a backlog of air passenger complaints since Canada’s Air Passenger Protection Regulations (APPR) were introduced in 2019.
Complaints seem to move at a glacial pace – the CTA told a parliamentary committee last November that it can take as long as 18 months to resolve a case.
READ MORE: CTA slaps penalties on WestJet & Sunwing for APPR violations
The CTA has been grappling with a swelling backlog of files for months now amid a surge of disgruntled travellers who have had their flight itineraries disrupted.
For example: in August 2022, the backlog stood at 18,200, but that number rose to more than 30,000 by the end of that November after a stressful summer of flight delays and cancellations.
Following this past holiday season's hectic travel season – which saw several flights grounded after a snowstorm led to a domino effect of cancellations – the agency has received more than 10,000 complaints, CBC reports.
Ottawa has allocated funding to the CTA in recent years — including $11 million in last April's budget — to tackle the excess, and federal promises to reform the rules have been made.
Transport Minister Omar Alghabra, for one, has vowed in introduce tougher rules to make airlines more accountable.
Speaking at a testimony in January, Minister Alghabra said new legislation could arrive as soon as this spring – and one avenue that’s being looked at is to strengthen the rules so complaints against airlines are settled before they reach the CTA.
Fines begin to fly
The CTA is supposed to enforce rules that require an airline to compensate passengers when a flight is delayed or cancelled for a reason that is within the airline's control.
The regulator went easy on airlines for many years – until recently, last month, when it enforced administrative monetary penalties on both WestJet and Sunwing.
WestJet’s fine was related to disruptions that occurred during the summer of 2022 – a turbulent period for air travel as the sector grappled with operational problems amid a spike in passenger demand.
Enforcement officers with the CTA found that the airline failed to provide passengers compensation they were entitled within 30 days, as laid out in the APPR. The agency, as a result, fined WestJet $112,800.
The CTA's penalty against Sunwing, meanwhile, totalled $126,000.
That fine was related to disruptions that occurred over the holidays, during which officers found that Sunwing failed to comply with section 13 of the APPR, which require airlines to provide information to passengers when a delay or cancellation occurs.
Since 2019, the CTA says it has issued 81 cautionary notices, and 33 notices of violation with administrative monetary penalties, totalling $383,580 relating to the APPR.
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