A new air passenger bill of rights would punish airlines for keeping people on the tarmac longer than three hours, forcing them to compensate passengers. But it would not compel carriers to disembark a plane delayed for long periods.
The bill is being crafted to instead deter airlines from treating people poorly by imposing strict punishments, according to Karen McCrimmon, parliamentary secretary to Transport Minister Marc Garneau.
Her remarks come a day after an Air Transat flight from Brussels was kept on the tarmac for six hours, before an exasperated passenger finally called 911.
The flight had been scheduled to arrive in Montreal but was diverted to Ottawa because of bad weather. Passengers spent a total of about 15 hours aboard the plane.
“I don’t think it will give the actual power for anybody to intervene in this situation, in that piece of legislation,” McCrimmon said. “We’re going to make sure that it’s not worth your while … to treat people this way.”
But the NDP’s industry critic, Brian Masse, notes that while “significant penalties” are important, the regulations should also include “allowing travellers to disembark and regular airport crew checks.”
The Commons transport committee voted in June to return a week before Parliament resumes to study the passenger bill of rights, Bill C-49, and give it an early push, McCrimmon said.
That committee usually only sits four hours a week, she said, but by returning early, it can sit longer and get two months of work done in about four days.
Garneau introduced Bill C-49 in May, with hope of having a passenger-protection regime in place by 2018. The bill would set standards across the country for how air passengers are treated in situations within an airline’s control.
The moves are part of a larger package of changes Garneau introduced to modernize Canada’s transportation laws to make them more efficient.
Similar legislation has been in place in the U.S. since 2002 and in Europe since 2005.
A difficult situation
McCrimmon’s office issued a statement Tuesday, saying she could “imagine how difficult the situation must have been, especially after a long transatlantic flight.”
The statement also said the new bill would “clarify the responsibilities of air carriers and the rights of travellers, and move to create rules to strengthen air…