Pax Global Media
Following a turbulent summer of airport inefficiencies, the Canadian government is working on enhancing its air passenger bill of rights, Minister of Transport Omar Alghabra told reporters earlier this week.
Speaking Monday (Nov. 28) at Ottawa International Airport, which just received $4 million in federal funding for infrastructure upgrades, Minister Alghabra noted the "unacceptable" issues travellers faced at airports this year, from delayed and cancelled flights to misplaced luggage.
The remarks came one week after Alghabra met with the aviation sector at a summit, where ongoing issues facing air transportation, and possible solutions, were discussed as the busy winter travel season approaches.
READ MORE: Ottawa meets with air sector to discuss lessons learned from a chaotic summer
Some of the talking points at the summit included how to modernize security screening, ways that airports could generate more revenue and lessons learned to enhance the passenger bill of rights, including standards for the Canadian Air Transport Security Authority and other agencies.
"Those are the type of things we're looking at because it's really important that we keep in mind the focus of the passenger experience. That's ultimately what we're all trying to do," Alghabra said.
Passenger volumes in Canada increased by over 280 per cent between February and June, which led to “a new crisis of congestion and delays” at airports, the Minister stated.
Combined with low staffing levels, the situation swelled into a summer travel season of lost baggage and flight disruptions.
The strain was felt at airports all around the world, but at one point, Toronto Pearson International Airport, in particular, was rated the world's worst for delayed flights.
READ MORE: Pearson among 5 worst largest North American airports in traveller satisfaction: study
"I won't deny that there were very frustrating moments and episodes that was frustrating for passengers, that was frustrating for airlines, that was frustrating for our government, and there were a lot of lessons learned," Alghabra told reporters.
The tension intensified further as many Canadians also struggled to get their passports renewed amid an influx of applications.
Passports fall under Service Canada, but Alghabra said his "sense" is that passport processing times are now normal or close to normal (although some reports suggest otherwise).
Complaints slow down
Meanwhile, the Canadian Transportation Agency (CTA) says its backlog of complaints related to delayed/cancelled flights or lost luggage has swelled to more than 30,000 — up from 18,000 this summer — but the agency says that number may be peaking.
The number of complaints to the CTA rose earlier this year as more customers argued that airlines were skirting federal compensation rules.
It’s only now that complaints have begun to slow, Michelle Greenshields, head of the dispute resolution branch at the CTA, told a committee of MPs on Monday.
"We've witnessed a big jump in complaints which has only recently started to slow down," Greenshilds told the House of Commons transport committee, as reported by CBC News.
Greenshields revealed that it can take up to 18 months to process a complaint, and to speed things up, the CTA has been "batching" complaints from the same flights to resolve more complaints at once, CBC reported.
Last week, the CTA told CBC that the agency has received more than 19,000 complaints since April, which is 7,000 more than the roughly 12,000 complaints it received in all of last year.
Minister Alghabra said Monday that Ottawa is working with the CTA to address the "unprecedented" backlog.
The federal government has, notably, granted additional funding to the CTA — including $11 million in April's budget — to address the issue.
But the Transport Minister suggested that throwing money at the problem only goes so far.
"We're looking at not only what other resources [we can provide] but are there processes that we can streamline to make it more efficient so it takes less time," Minister Alghabra said.
Don't miss a single travel story: subscribe to PAX today! Click here to follow PAX on Facebook.