The battle for compensation claims for canceled and delayed flights has reached the Federal Court of Appeals.
Air Canada and WestJet have both started a legal battle to appeal separate Canadian Transportation Agency (CTA) rulings in which, in each case, the airline was ordered to compensate one or more passengers $ 1,000 for a canceled flight due to of a shortage of staff.
The airlines each state in court documents that they shouldn’t have to pay, because the CTA – Canada’s transportation regulator and quasi-judicial court – has misinterpreted Canadian compensation regulations.
Consumer advocate and attorney John Lawford said if airlines win their appeals, it could impact other flight disruption claims.
“Basically whenever the airline has a staff shortage of any kind it could be … an event beyond their control and then all those claims would fail,” said Lawford, executive director of the Public Interest Advocacy Center (PIAC). . “I think these appeals … signal that they, the airlines, are very reluctant to pay compensation.”
WestJet and Air Canada told CBC News that they comply with Canadian Air Passenger Protection Regulations (APPR). WestJet said it has appealed to ensure the rules are applied fairly.
“There is no single problem for the crew and we believe that what the CTA is trying to do is make all crew problems the same,” said Andy Gibbons, vice president of government relations at WestJet.
WestJet has ordered to pay $ 1,000
Under the APPAirlines must pay compensation – up to $ 1,000 – only if the flight delay or cancellation is under the control of an airline and is not required for safety reasons.
The CTA said it has received more than 16,000 complaints from air passengers related to flight disruptions since May.
The CTA rulings on the WestJet and Air Canada cases, which were published last summer, were supposed to help clarify the compensation rules for flight disruptions caused by crew shortages.
The agency made it clear that personnel problems are considered to be under the control of the airline and cannot be classified as safety problems, unless an airline can prove otherwise.
The WestJet case involved passenger Owen Lareau, whose July 2021 flight from Regina to Ottawa was canceled, resulting in a 21-hour delay.
According to the CTAWestJet said a pilot had fallen ill about an hour before takeoff and a replacement could not be found in time, so flight cancellation was a safety concern that did not justify compensation.
But the CTA ruled that WestJet “did not establish sufficiently” that the cancellation of the flight was inevitable, so it ordered the airline to compensate Lareau $ 1,000.
WestJet asked for permission to appeal the ruling in August and received approval from the Federal Court of Appeals last month.
“Basically, we believe it was a safety decision to cancel this flight and we support it,” said WestJet’s Gibbons. “The original purpose of the GPA was to protect consumers from airline business decisions, not to punish airlines for safety decisions.”
Gibbons also suggested that airfares could increase if the CTA continues to generalize the crew shortage as being under the control of an airline.
“We have an obligation to keep our costs low and this must be balanced with the fairness of the compensation schemes in place.”
The CTA and the passengers involved in both cases declined to comment while the matter is before the courts.
Air Canada sentenced to pay $ 2,000
In the Air Canada case, passenger Lisa Crawford and her son were delayed nearly 16 hours after the airline canceled the August 2021 flight from their Fort St. John, BC home to Halifax.
According to the CTAAir Canada said a pilot was unable to complete the required training course on time and the airline could not secure a replacement, so canceling the flight was beyond its control.
But the CTA ruled that Air Canada has provided no evidence “that a crew shortage was inevitable despite proper planning,” so Crawford and his son must be compensated for $ 1,000 each.
Air Canada asked the courts for permission last month to appeal the ruling and is awaiting approval.
In its motion of appeal, the airline argues that the CTA cannot assume that the crew shortage is under the control of the airlines and thus entrusts them with the burden of denying it.
“It has interpreted the JPA in a way not envisaged by the act, placing an unattainable burden of proof on carriers,” Air Canada spokesman Peter Fitzpatrick said in an email.
WestJet makes a similar legal argument in its motion of appeal.
Lawford of the PIAC suggests that the CTA’s request for evidence was fair.
“It is a reasonable proposition for a regulator to say that we expect you to have plans for staff shortages,” he said. “The agency was just asking them to provide some evidence that they made an effort.”
Canada’s air passenger protection regulations are also the subject of another judicial battle.
In 2019, Air Canada and Porter Airlines, along with more than a dozen candidates, including the International Air Transport Association, filed a motion in the Federal Court of Appeals to overturn many of the regulations.
The plaintiffs argue that the APPR is “invalid” for international flights because it is different from the Montreal Conventiona treaty adopted by many countries, including Canada, which establishes airline liability for flight disruptions.
Under the Montreal Convention, air passengers can only obtain compensation for flight disruptions if they do so prove that you have suffered a financial loss.
A decision in this case is expected shortly.
Lawford said that if all appeals are successful, it could mean that few flight disruptions warrant compensation.
“It would certainly be a struggle for the average consumer to gain acceptance of their claim.”