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Backgrounder: Dispute Resolution for Air Travellers

The Canadian Transportation Agency is an independent administrative tribunal of the Government of Canada. It is responsible for:

dispute resolution
to resolve complaints about transportation services, fares, rates, and charges;
accessibility
to ensure that the national transportation system is accessible, particularly to persons with disabilities; and
economic regulation
to provide approvals, licences and to make decisions on matters involving federally-regulated air, rail and marine transportation.

Through its actions, and by working closely with Transport Canada, other departments, its clients and stakeholder groups, the Agency supports the goal of a Canadian transportation system that is competitive, efficient and accessible and meets the needs of those who provide or use transportation services.

Complaints and Dispute Resolution

  • Every year, the Agency helps hundreds of individuals resolve their disputes with rail, marine and air transportation service providers. The vast majority of complaints received involve air carriers (both Canadian and international). In 2011-12, the Agency processed some 685 air travel complaints on issues ranging from lost baggage to flight disruptions and delays.
  • The majority of the Agency's work is driven by complaints from travellers and occasionally other interested parties. Each case is decided on its own merit and the resulting decisions are only applicable to the carrier or carriers named in the complaint.  
  • In all cases, the Agency assesses the complainant's case against the carrier's tariff – the contract between the passenger and the air carrier that includes the terms and conditions of carriage. Tariffs are required to be:
    • clear;
    • just, reasonable, not unduly discriminatory;
    • applied by the carrier; and
    • consistent with international agreements or conventions to which Canada is a signatory. 
  • Most air complaints are settled informally by Agency staff. Complaints are assessed to ensure the carrier has respected its tariff and legal obligations. Where it appears they have not, staff will approach the carrier and attempt to facilitate a resolution of the complaint. The Agency also offers mediation, where parties involved in a complaint work with a mediator to negotiate a settlement. In 2011–12, 293 cases were closed through the Agency's facilitation process. 
  • In cases where a complainant believes that a carrier has not applied its tariff or that its tariff is unreasonable, it can request that the case be considered through formal adjudication, a court-like process with a minimum of one Member who hears and makes a determination on the complaint. The result of formal adjudication is a legally-binding decision. 
  • 13 tariff-related cases were resolved through formal adjudication in 2011–12. Five cases related to allegations that a carrier had failed to respect its tariff, one case related to allegations that the provisions of a carrier's tariff were unreasonable, five cases related to allegations of unreasonable domestic airline pricing and two cases related to other topics.
  • The Agency can address complaints about provisions included in the carrier's terms and conditions of service, such as:
    • baggage issues,
    • flight disruptions,
    • tickets and reservations,
    • denied boarding (for example, due to overbooking),
    • refusal to transport (because of late arrival or because of missing travel documents),
    • fares and charges,
    • cargo (like animals), and
    • loyalty programs if they are owned by the carrier (this excludes Aeroplan® and Air Miles®, which are independent). 
  • Although the Agency keeps track of the number of requests it receives about safety issues, it does not deal with these matters and refers them to Transport Canada. The Agency also cannot deal with quality of service issues like friendliness of staff.  
  • In issuing a decision, the Agency can order the air carrier in question to change its tariff and its terms and conditions of carriage if such are found to be unreasonable or where a carrier has failed to apply its tariff. In some cases, the Agency can order the carrier to compensate passengers for out-of-pocket expenses incurred as a result of the incident and provide restitution for any damages such as lost baggage.  
  • However, it cannot order compensation to passengers for pain and suffering or loss of enjoyment, nor can it levy punitive damages or impose penalties or order the carrier to compensate every passenger on a flight for failing to follow their own terms and conditions.  
  • In resolving air travel complaints (other than those related to accessibility for persons with disabilities), the Agency's jurisdiction does not extend to airports, the Canadian Air Transport Security Authority, NAV CANADA, the Canada Border Services Agency or any other player in the aviation industry. 
  • The Agency's Enforcement Division conducts inspections and investigations across Canada, and can issue warnings and fines; these include administrative monetary penalties when an air carrier fails to comply with a legal requirement, including orders of the Agency.

Corrective Measures and Enforcement

  • In issuing a decision, the Agency can order the air carrier in question to change its tariff and its terms and conditions of carriage if such are found to be unreasonable or where a carrier has failed to apply its tariff. In some cases, the Agency can order the carrier to compensate passengers for out-of-pocket expenses incurred as a result of the incident and provide restitution for any damages such as lost baggage.  
  • However, it cannot order compensation to passengers for pain and suffering or loss of enjoyment, nor can it levy punitive damages or impose penalties or order the carrier to compensate every passenger on a flight for failing to follow their own terms and conditions.  
  • In resolving air travel complaints (other than those related to accessibility for persons with disabilities), the Agency's jurisdiction does not extend to airports, the Canadian Air Transport Security Authority, NAV CANADA, the Canada Border Services Agency or any other player in the aviation industry. 
  • The Agency's Enforcement Division conducts inspections and investigations across Canada, and can issue warnings and fines; these include administrative monetary penalties when an air carrier fails to comply with a legal requirement, including orders of the Agency. 
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