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Passenger bill of rights will make airfares soar: airline council  Feb 12, 2009

Airfares will soar if a passenger bill of rights, proposed by Winnipeg MP Jim Maloway, is approved, Canada's airline industry has warned.

Maloway tabled his private member's bill in the House of Commons Tuesday. It proposes significant financial penalties to airlines for delayed or cancelled flights, even if it's due to poor weather, as happened to many Canadians during the Christmas holidays.

Travellers would also be protected when bumped from a flight or if they experience baggage problems. Maloway, who represents the Elmwood-Transcona riding of Winnipeg, is also demanding full disclosure of advertised airfares. The bill would penalize airlines with fines of $10,000 every time the full cost of a flight isn't advertised.

"The last thing, in this economic context, that airlines want to do is pass on that cost to passengers but they will have no choice. There is no way airlines could absorb that," said George Petsikas, president of the National Airlines Council of Canada. "We have to lower costs to get people to travel but this will have the opposite effect."

Petsikas, whose group represents Air Canada, Air Canada Jazz, WestJet Airlines Ltd. and Air Transat, said Maloway doesn't seem to understand the "supply chain" the air travel industry works on.

Many factors impact schedules

There are many factors that affect whether a flight is on time, including baggage handling, snow clearing and de-icing, said Petsikas, who is also Air Transat's director of government and industry affairs.

"These things have a huge impact on whether we get off on time," he said.

Under Maloway's bill, passengers would be compensated when they are kept on planes on the tarmac for more than 60 minutes after the doors of the plane close. The compensation rate would be set at $500 an hour per person.

As well, any carrier that fails to make an announcement about delays, cancellations or diverted planes within 10 minutes of employees being advised would also be tagged with a $1,000 fine.

Maloway's bill also proposes compensation of between $500 and $1,200 for every traveller bumped off overbooked planes. The amount of the compensation would depend on the length of the flight.

Punishment won't solve anything: NACC

Often, when a flight is delayed, it will be behind schedule at every airport along its route. Petsikas was unclear on whether the airlines would be hit with fines at every stop.

"Unfortunately, we never got a chance to provide meaningful input into the bill. We only saw the text of it when it was tabled on the Commons floor," he said.

Maloway's bill relies on a punitive approach, which will do nothing to solve the problem because it doesn't address the systemic issues, said Petsikas, who is also Air Transat's director of government and industry affairs.

"It [air travel industry] is a network system that, at the best of times, is a challenge to keep running smoothly," he said.

Passenger bill of rights will make airfares soar: airline council
Winnipeg MP Jim Maloway / Image via

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