The cancellation of Air Canada raised questions about compensation for stranded passengers

Christopher Reynolds, The Canadian Press

Published Thursday, June 30, 2022 1:37 PM EST

Last update Thursday, June 30, 2022 1:37 PM EST

MONTREAL – Consumer advocates are calling for Air Canada to compensate the many hundreds of thousands of passengers whose summer flights have been canceled.

The country’s largest airline said on Wednesday night that it would cut more than 15 percent of its flights in July and August as the country’s airline network slumped amid an overwhelming travel recovery.

The move would see more than 9,500 flights, or an average of 154 flights per day, dropped from the company’s schedule — already operating at just 80 percent of pre-pandemic levels. Flights are primarily connected to the airline’s Toronto and Montreal hubs, and operate along domestic routes or between Canada and the United States. No international flights other than those to the United States were among the executions.

“It’s going to be a tough Canada Day weekend,” CEO Michael Russo told employees in a note dated Thursday and obtained by The Canadian Press.

“I hope I can promise you that the measures we take will mean an easy summer ahead. Although it will certainly provide some relief, it will take time and effort, and we likely won’t see the full benefit until the latter part of July.”

Sylvie de Belleville, an attorney at Quebec-based group Option Consommateurs, says many clients owe “absolutely” compensation under the Canadian Charter of Passenger Rights.

The Air Passenger Protection Regulations (APPR), which took effect in 2019, requires compensation – different from refunds – between $400 and $1,000 for cancellations or significant delays that are “within the carrier’s control,” if the traveler chooses to refuse a rebook, And in some cases when they accept it.

“I think Air Canada’s decision to cancel the fights,” de Belleville said. “So people should have the right to compensation.”

While Rousseau apologized for flight cancellations and “customer service inadequacies,” the CEO also said in an email to travelers that the schedule cuts were caused by pressures on the “global aviation system” – potentially beyond Air Canada’s control – and described it as “unfair.” unprecedented and unexpected.

Gabor Lukács, head of the air passenger rights advocacy group, said airlines had been “overrun” in a bid to make up for two years of slumping profits.

“Even if there were seats available on the plane, there was no pilot, no flight attendant, and no gate agents,” he said, adding that the scarcity of FSB and customs staff formed further. challenges.

“These are cancellations under the control of the carrier… Airlines may claim otherwise, but these claims bear no water.”

Customers are automatically notified of cancellations, Air Canada said in an email, “and this process is ongoing.”

“We can immediately rebook for each other while we will continue to look for alternatives to others and will advise them if options become available,” spokesman Peter Fitzpatrick said.

He said customers can request a refund at any time.

Air Canada did not answer questions about whether the schedule cutbacks were within its control, stating that it would “meet its obligations under the APPR.”

The Montreal-based company’s stock fell 6.8 percent, or $1.16, to $15.91 in the middle of Thursday afternoon, deepening the decline from more than $21 a share at the start of the month.

Jacques Roy, professor of transportation management at HEC Montreal Business School, said carrier revenue would be affected, even if incorporating passengers on fewer trips boosted efficiency.

“This is definitely not good news for Air Canada. It’s peak season – this is the most profitable quarter of the year, and for the past three years it has been negative,” he said.

He added that it is likely that at least 400,000 passengers will be affected.

Cathy Gray booked a family trip to Scotland months ago, and already saw her trip rescheduled once.

“We’ve booked and paid for car rent and accommodations and are apprehensive about what we expect to happen with our August-September flight schedules and the domino effect on our plans,” she said.

All of this could have been avoided had the airlines not been greedy. It’s a disgrace.”

The scale of passenger concern was evident on Air Canada’s website, which was inundated with travelers checking the status of their summer flights.

“We are currently experiencing technical issues that may prevent you from reclaiming your online reservation,” reads an alert at the top of the airline’s homepage posted on Wednesday evening.

Under federal regulations, if passengers are notified more than two weeks in advance that their flight has been canceled or delayed by three hours or more for reasons under the carrier’s control, they owe alternative travel arrangements or a refund – the traveler’s choice. A denied reservation results in a payment of $400 in compensation, plus a refund.

If the flight is canceled in 14 days or less, passengers owe $1,000 for a cancellation or delay of nine hours or more, and $400 to $700 for a delay of three to nine hours.

The airline must aim to rebook passengers on a flight on its network that takes off within nine hours of the original departure time. If you can’t, you must offer to book it on another airline network “as soon as possible” free of charge, in accordance with the Charter of Passenger Rights.

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