Canadian Transportation Agency Backlogged Over Two Years With 14,000 Pending Air Passenger Complaints

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The Canadian Transportation Agency (CTA) is back in the news where it was revealed that the paper tiger government agency is experiencing a two year backlog of complaints from air passengers.

This comes as thousands of citizens are filing additional complaints about refund issues with Canadian airlines during the COVID-19 pandemic as carriers refuse to give customers their money back.

Transportation regulators and their respective consumer complaint channels have had a few busy years as airlines were squeezing their customers more and more in recent times but the COVID-19 crisis which lead to mass cancellations and Billions of $/EUR in refund obligation has sent everyone involved over the tipping point.

As the CBC reported today the situation in Canada is especially serious as right now the regulator has a two year backlog for consumer complaints and the files keep flooding in.

The Canadian Transportation Agency is wrestling with a backlog of nearly 14,000 air passenger complaints accumulated over the past two years, at the same time as thousands of Canadians are demanding the agency help get their money back from flights cancelled due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

More than half of the 26,000 complaints submitted to the CTA from July 2018 to April 2020 are unresolved, according to a response to an order paper question by the NDP tabled in Parliament last week on the number, nature and resolution of passenger complaints.

The bulk of the complaints — which are meant to be addressed within 30 to 120 days — are for disruptions to flights including cancellations, tarmac delays and people being denied boarding. …

The CTA told CBC News the vast majority of untouched cases are not tied to the global public health crisis, which largely grounded air travel around the world.

The number of complaints more than doubled after the second wave of air passenger protection regulations came into effect in December 2019, the agency said.

The regulations, first enacted in July 2019, are intended to ensure that both airlines and passengers know what their rights are when it comes to travel setbacks like delays and cancellations. The CTA is an independent, quasi-judicial tribunal and regulator tasked with settling disputes between the customers and airlines.

The COVID-19 pandemic has only added to the mounting pile of complaints.

The CTA says it logged about 5,500 complaints from March 11 to May 28, though it did not disclose what they were about.

The number was revealed as Canadians across the country are calling on the federal government to compel airlines to refund costs for flights they were never able to board. Most Canadian airlines have offered passengers travel vouchers redeemable within two years — something the CTA has said could be reasonable during these extraordinary circumstances. …

Transport Minister Marc Garneau said Friday that forcing airlines to refund passengers would have a “devastating effect” on an already battered industry. …

I have – on numerous occasions- been very critical of the CTA in the past and for good reasons. Based on personal experience the agency for one doesn’t have sufficient manpower allocated to the department handling the passenger complaints.

The biggest issue however is systemic and that is, that the regulator is way too close to the actual industry they are supposed to keep in check. This isn’t just the CTA itself but the problem comes from the top down as can be seen by various statements of the government over the year like the Transport Minister himself.

I last wrote about the CTA in April when a consumer advocacy group took legal action against the agency for publishing a non-binding opinion about airlines being entitled to issue vouchers instead of cash refunds.

At least Air Canada has since revamped their refund policies and made them more customer friendly, although not ideal for everybody.

I’m not surprised about the backlog at all. The CTA’s process is too complicated while at the same time the outcome is never or at least rarely in the interest of the consumer either way as the agency is positively biased towards the industry it’s mandated to regulate.

Generally speaking consumers seeking to resolve a matter with an airline in Canada should go to court instead at calling upon the CTA to get the matter resolved.

Conclusion

Canada stands pretty much alone with such big problems surrounding their transportation regulators as pretty much every country has a similar agency (like the U.S. Department of Transportation) that works more efficient and in the interest of the complainant.

In comparison, my experience with DOT complaints has been generally positive. They are usually processed quickly and forwarded directly to the airline. Maybe it helps that the DOT process works in a different way than in Canada because the DOT doesn’t do mediation and has no enforcement power to resolve individual cases. Instead they enter all complaints into a public statistic and can fine airlines significant amounts if they violate the law, even without a formal mediation process airlines respect a complaint forwarded by the DOT much more than the CTA where they know the agency is a toothless tiger that will never do anything to them.

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