Canada: Crew shortages are generally within an airline’s control, Canada’s transport regulator says

A recent ruling by Canada’s transport regulator in favour of two Air Canada passengers whose flight was delayed is the latest development in the ongoing battle over whether airlines must compensate passengers for flight disruptions caused by crew shortages. 

The Canadian Transportation Agency (CTA) ordered Air Canada to compensate passenger Lisa Crawford and her son $1,000 each following a flight cancellation that delayed their August 2021 trip from their home city of Fort St. John, B.C., to Halifax by almost 16 hours.

According to the CTA, Air Canada initially told Crawford the flight cancellation was caused by a crew shortage linked to COVID-19, and was safety-related — so she wasn’t eligible for compensation. 

The airline’s response prompted Crawford to take her case to the CTA, a quasi-judicial tribunal.

“Staffing and other aspects of operations are the employer’s responsibility to manage,” said Crawford in an email to CBC News. 

The CTA agreed, stating in its decision that Air Canada failed to provide evidence “establishing that the crew shortage was unavoidable despite proper planning,” so Crawford and her son must be compensated.

Under Canada’s Air passenger protection regulations, airlines only have to pay compensation — up to $1,000 per passenger — if a flight cancellation or delay is within the airline’s control and not required for safety reasons. 

“I was thrilled with the CTA’s finding,” said Crawford, though she and others question if the case will carry much weight.

CTA ruling in July where WestJet was ordered to compensate a passenger for a flight delay involving a crew shortage. The airline argues the CTA’s decision was flawed, because it was based on a misinterpretation of Canada’s air passenger rules. 

“Given the ongoing disagreement on how the regulations are to be interpreted and/or applied, I believe the real outcome for my case and likely many others, remains to be seen,” said Crawford. 

According to the CTA, it has received 13,743 air passenger complaints since May 1, of which 87 per cent are related to flight disruptions.

The CTA’s ruling in the WestJet case, issued on July 8, was supposed to help clear the air on some of those compensation disputes.

In that case, WestJet initially denied passenger Owen Lareau of Ottawa compensation for a cancelled flight, stating it “was impacted due to flight crew member availability and required for safety purposes.”

Staffing issues typically warrant compensation because, in general, they are an airline’s responsibility and can’t be categorized as a safety matter. 

The agency also ordered WestJet to pay Lareau $1,000. 

“Training and staffing are within airline control and therefore crew shortages are within airline control, unless there’s compelling evidence” to the contrary, said CTA spokesperson Tom Oommen in an interview “It’s a high threshold.”

But in a motion filed in the Federal Court of Appeal on Aug. 10, WestJet argued that, according to the APPR, the CTA can’t presume crew shortages warrant compensation and then put the onus on airlines to disprove it. 

Consumer advocate and lawyer, John Lawford said WestJet is offering a narrow reading of the rules, and that the CTA ruling in Julyset out to clarify them.

“[The airline is] saying, ‘That’s nice, the actual wording of the regulations is all we will follow and we’re going to court.’ “

WestJet, the CTA and passenger Lareau have each declined to comment on the case.

Source: CBC

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