The Canadian Transportation Agency (CTA) is overwhelmed by a backlog of nearly 14,000 air passenger complaints that have clogged its system for the past two years, according to a report by CBC News.
The CTA is an independent, administrative tribunal and regulator that settles disputes between customers and airlines.
Between July 2018 and April 2020, the agency received approximately 26,000 complaints and more than half of those cases are still unresolved (the agency is supposed to address complaints within 30 to 120 days).
All of this was revealed after a response to an order paper question by the NDP tabled in Parliament last week on the number, nature and resolution of passenger complaints, CBC reports.
Interestingly, the bulk of CTA’s complaint files are unrelated to the thousands of flights that were cancelled when the global COVID-19 pandemic set in and borders were closed, the agency said.
Speaking to the CBC, the CTA said the number of complaints it received more than doubled after the second stage of air passenger protection regulations came into effect in December 2019.
The first set of rules came out in July 2019. These regulations were introduced to provide clearer communication between airlines and passengers on what they were entitled to if and when things go wrong in the airplane-flying process.
Accumulating a backlog of complaints isn’t due to “a lack of effort or commitment,” the CTA told CBC in a statement. Rather, “it simply reflects the challenges of handling a 23-fold leap in demand."
The news unfolds has thousands of Canadian consumers turn to the CTA for assistance in receiving refunds (instead of vouchers) for cancelled flights during the COVID-19 pandemic.
On March 25th, the CTA issued its Statement on Vouchers, offering suggestions to airlines and passengers in the context of a once-in-a-century pandemic, global collapse of air travel, and mass cancellation of flights for reasons outside the control of airlines.
Canadians are also turning to the CTA in record numbers: in 2019-20, 19,392 complaints were filed with the CTA – almost three times as many as the year before and 23 times higher than the number submitted just five years earlier, the agency reports.
During that same year, the CTA helped passengers and airlines resolve 9,000 complaints, the agency says.
Last week, Transport Minister Marc Garneau expressed support for Canada’s airline industry, telling reporters that “We expect and need an airline industry in this country.”
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau has also begun to weigh in on the issue at his daily press briefings in Ottawa.
On Friday (May 29), Trudeau acknowledged the need to support Canadians “who need money in their pockets,” but also recognized the challenges airlines are facing during the coronavirus crisis.
“We are working with Canadians and airlines to ensure that Canadians will be helped while ensuring that we have an airline industry after this crisis is over,” Trudeau told reporters.
Trudeau said that he will work with Canadians and airlines to “find a fair way through it.”
This article was updated on Tuesday, June 2nd at 2:07 p.m.
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