Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

Airing of airline goof-ups pushed

Passengers demand U.S.-style disclosure

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HALIFAX -- Some passengers angered by air-travel ordeals say its time airlines in Canada are required to publicly disclose complaints of baggage problems, cancelled flights and tarmac delays, just like their counterparts in th United States.

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 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.

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.

Karine Martel, 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," Martel said.

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.

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 last year, the agency was involved with 230 Canadian airline complaints after passengers tried to resolve the matters with the 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.

-- The Canadian Press

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition January 19, 2014 A5

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