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Updated: Sat, 18 Jan 2014 16:28:18 GMT | By The Canadian Press, cbc.ca

Angry air travellers call for U.S.-style complaint disclosure



Travellers line up after dozens of flights were cancelled or delayed by Sunday's ice storm at Pearson International Airport in Toronto, Monday December 23, 2013. THE CANADIAN PRESS/J.P. Moczulski J.P. Moczulski/Canadian Press

Travellers line up after dozens of flights were cancelled or delayed by Sunday's ice storm at Pearson International Airport in Toronto, Monday December 23, 2013. THE CANADIAN PRESS/J.P. Moczulski J.P. Moczulski/Canadian Press

Some passengers angered by air travel ordeals say it's time airlines in Canada be required to publicly disclose complaints of baggage problems, cancelled flights and tarmac delays, just like their counterparts do south of the border.

Tiffany Flowers said she waited six days in Halifax after a weather delay cancelled her Jan. 3 Porter Airlines flight to Montreal, despite clear days in both cities.

Flowers said her autistic son, 14, missed a medical appointment to adjust his medication as a result.

"You're at the mercy of the airlines," said the 32-year-old student and graphic designer.

Flowers said Ottawa should post airline records for delays, baggage mishandling and cancellations online for travellers.

"People put their lives in the hands of these airline companies, and we have no record," she said.

Brad Cicero, a spokesman for Porter Airlines, said in an email that severe weather and fully booked flights led to a seat shortage. He said the company is reviewing how it operates when there are weather disruptions.

No law in Canada

Michael Janigan, a lawyer for the Public Interest Advocacy Centre in Toronto, said an overhaul of passenger rights laws is needed, beginning with public disclosure of complaints on mishandled baggage, boarding denials due to overbooking, cancellations and delays.

He said the federal government could follow the model of the U.S. Department of Transportation website, which posts such records online.

"What we have here is a complete lack of keeping performance statistics like we have in the United States ... to keep track of barometers of airline success," Janigan said.

A spokeswoman for Transport Canada said in an email there is no law in Canada requiring airlines to publicly disclose consumer complaints. She did not comment on whether Ottawa keeps any records internally.

"The government continues to monitor the situation and will take whatever measures are required to ensure consumers are treated fairly," said Karine Martel.

Marc-Andre O'Rourke, executive director of the National Airlines Council of Canada, said in an email it is difficult to comment on a public disclosure system since no proposal is before the government.

"Each airline has a very different type of operation and network," he added. "This means varying numbers of passengers, baggage, number of connections, etc. As such it makes timely and useful comparisons more difficult."

He said on-time performance statistics are tracked for some flights on FlightStats, a privately run website.

'It would change the way people travel'

But Brooklyn Elhard, whose Air Canada flight from Orlando, Fla., to Toronto was delayed Jan. 4 for two days due to mechanical problems, said she wants more information about airlines in the future.

"It would change the way people travel if they actually knew what they were signing up for," said the 24-year-old music student.

Elhard's flight took off for Toronto but returned to Orlando after experiencing the mechanical problems.

She said money was provided for meals but that didn't fully cover the cost, a taxi refused to honour an Air Canada voucher, baggage was left unattended on a carousel for more than an hour and a subsequent flight was cancelled when a warning light came on in the cockpit of the same plane.

Isabelle Arthur, an Air Canada spokeswoman, said in an email passengers on the flight were offered discounts for future travel and said the incident occurred as the airline was struggling with extreme weather conditions that reduced the availability of aircraft and crew.

Push for a passenger advocate

Statistics on the Canadian Transportation Agency's website indicate the number of complaints handled informally by the agency has grown over the past year.

From April 1 to Sept. 1 of last year, the agency was involved with 230 Canadian airline complaints after passengers tried to resolve their matters with their airlines. That compares to 143 complaints for the same time period the year before.

But Janigan said the agency's complaints-based system isn't particularly consumer-friendly, and he sees a need for an airlines complaint advocate and tougher enforcement laws.

The agency said passengers who formally complain to the agency must show that a domestic airline's compensation rules for problems such as damaged baggage, cancelled flights and refused boardings aren't reasonable based on existing law, rules of natural justice and evidence.

Janigan said he prefers the enforcement penalties the U.S. Department of Transportation sometimes imposes if it finds airlines are violating set rules on minimum compensation rates.

In 2013, Delta Airlines was penalized $750,000 for improperly bumping passengers due to overbooking, while United Airlines was fined $1.1 million for stranding passengers aboard airplanes on the tarmac during a weather delay in Chicago in July 2012.

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