Opening remarks from Ms. France Pégeot (Chair and Chief Executive Officer, Canadian Transportation Agency) to the Standing Committee on Transport, Infrastructure and Communities - January 12, 2023
Thank you very much, Mr. Chair.
I would like to thank the committee for the invitation to appear today.
As you noted, I am accompanied today by Tom Oommen, director general for analysis and outreach at the agency.
The agency has a broad economic regulation and dispute resolution mandate. On the one hand, this mandate relates to transportation by air, rail, marine and interprovincial bus, all of which fall under federal jurisdiction. On the other hand, it seeks to protect the rights of persons living with disabilities to an accessible transportation system.
The agency carries out its responsibilities in two specific roles. First, it acts as an economic regulator, responsible for developing regulations under the relevant legislation and implementing them. In addition, it issues licences, makes decisions and enforces regulations.
Second, the agency is also an administrative tribunal, resolving complaints through both informal and formal processes. A central part of its mandate is to provide air passengers with a consumer protection regime.
With the coming into force of the Air Passenger Protection Regulations in 2019, the agency established, for the first time, minimum consumer protection requirements that all airlines had to follow. Many of these requirements are designed to attenuate the impact of disruptions in air passengers' travel journey, and that is at their core.
The regulations impose requirements regarding three categories of flight disruption, with different passenger entitlements depending on the category of flight disruption: flight disruptions could be categorized as being within airline control, within airline control but required for safety, or outside airline control. Since the regulations came into force, many passengers have used them to enforce the airlines' new obligations.
I would like to remind everyone that the regulations came into force just before the pandemic. The pandemic, as you know, had a significant impact on the transport industry, which indeed had difficulty resuming normal operations. This resulted in a record number of complaints to the agency. To put this in perspective, here is some background.
In the year before the regulations came into force, in 2018‑19, the agency received about 7600 complaints. In the year that the APPR came into force, in 2019‑20, we received just over 19,000 complaints. And finally, in the current year, 2022‑23, that is since April 2022, the agency has received almost 21,000 complaints, just in the first half of the year.
We have streamlined our processes and achieved new efficiencies. Unfortunately, the fact remains that we have a backlog of about 33,000 complaints.
I just want to add that our experience has been that about 97% of our complaints are resolved informally through our facilitation process, which takes an average of 20 business days to close once an agency facilitator begins the process.
With respect to the recent holiday flight disruptions, we expect that a significant number of complaints will be filed with the agency. These complaints are usually filed a month or so after the flight disruptions in question, as passengers must first make their claim directly with the airline, which has 30 days to respond.
These flight disruptions began with winter storms that first impacted flights out of western Canada, particularly Vancouver, and later on impacted Ontario- and Quebec-based flights.
We were very quickly on the ground. Enforcement officers were there, communicating with airlines, monitoring the situation and gathering the necessary information. They are currently investigating potential violations of regulatory requirements, and the work is ongoing.
As an example of other things we have done, over the same holiday period, agency staff communicated with Sunwing regarding its cancellation of all flights to and from Saskatchewan until February 3.
At that time, we were told that all passengers requesting compensation—if they were informed less than two weeks in advance of their cancelled flights—would get compensation as required under the APPR, or the air passenger protection regulations.
We will continue to monitor the response of airlines to the holiday flight disruptions. We will also respond to incoming complaints arising out of these flight disruptions.
In order to help passengers who have filed complaints with the agency, we have recently added a new application to our website, which we call the case status update. It allows every complainant to know where they stand in the queue and what the next steps are in resolving their dispute with the airline.
Furthermore, we have posted consumer-friendly guides that can be easily read and navigated on a smart phone, and have provided information on what passengers are entitled to and how to file a complaint. This is to make it easy to follow the process, particularly if they are at the airport when the event happens.
We're also working on addressing the complaint backlog by further increasing our complaints processing capacity through identifying and implementing procedural improvements and modernizing our processes. We hope to eventually be able to automate some parts of our processes.
Thank you, Mr. Chair. We'd be happy to respond to any questions.