Members of the federal government are calling on Canadian airlines to better protect its passengers after many were stranded or left behind over the holidays.
Multiple winter storms across the country caused airlines to cancel or delay thousands of flights, leaving vacationers stranded without a way to get home. Many reported paying hundreds of thousands in extra costs, including new flights, hotel rooms, travel costs and more.
Ottawa’s Standing Committee on Transport, Infrastructure and Communities met with leadership of WestJet, Sunwing Airlines and Air Canada today to discuss how airlines can ensure these types of delays never happen again – especially at Christmas.
Air Canada’s Kevin O’Connor notes over 2 million travelers flew safely between December 22, 2022, and January 8, 2023 – with flights leaving every 90 seconds across Canada.
Len Corrado with Sunwing says staff worked around the clock to solve any issues for stranded travelers, including bringing in additional pilots to address a staff shortage ahead of the holidays. He notes unlike other airlines, Sunwing struggles to reroute passengers who purchased fixed travel packages.
“A delay or cancellation in Canada can be the result of many different groups,” says Andrew Gibbons of WestJet.
“It could be because the customs hall was too full, and the plane had to sit on the tarmac. It could be because nav Canada had a staffing issue. It could have been from an airport failure."
"It is not about blame game. It is simply about improving the system overall and making sure there’s full transparency so a Canadian traveler knows the root cause of their delay or cancellation. The priority should be shared accountability," he adds.
Parliamentary Assistant to the Minister of Transportation, Annie Koutrakis, notes travelers who were affected by these delays may be eligible for compensation from the Canadian Transportation Agency.
Members of Parliament called for the meeting - even though the House of Commons is still on its Christmas Break. Many MPs noted residents had concerns around ‘poor customer care’ from airlines.
Transport Minister Omar Alghabra will also be making an appearance later this afternoon, as well as representatives from Toronto, Montreal and Vancouver airport agencies.
Of note, the federal government has the power to fine airlines up to $25,000 per passenger for each major violation – but they’ve only exercised that power 12 times since April of 2022.