TORONTO — The proposed bill of rights for Canadian travellers is on track for 2018 but that’s not soon enough for the planeload of passengers forced to wait on the tarmac in Ottawa for six hours in sweltering hot temperatures this week, with limited resources and no way to disembark.
Bill C-49 would prevent problems like those experienced by Air Transat passengers forced to withstand uncomfortably warm conditions on the flight, stuck on an Ottawa runway for six hours after flying in from Brussels and waiting out storm conditions in Montreal, said Karen McCrimmon, the parliamentary secretary to Canada’s Minister of Transport.
McCrimmon said the legislation – Bill C-49 – could become a reality in 2018, and would give consumers a legitimate way to hold airlines accountable in cases of mistreatment.
“We’re giving the consumer more teeth, to be able to say, ‘no these are my rights, and I don’t have to accept being treated this way’,” she said in an interview. “It makes it in the airline’s best interest for this not to happen.”
The Canadian Transportation Agency said Wednesday that it has ordered Air Transat to explain the circumstances of the incident, as well as another tarmac delay involving the airline. The agency said it wanted to know whether the airline respected terms and conditions of carriage for international flights with respect to the treatment of passengers.
Air Transat has apologized to passengers involved in Monday’s incident, and said airport staff were unable to provide loading bridges or stairs that would have allowed passengers to disembark or ground crews to replenish the aircraft’s drinking water supply.
McCrimmon said the upcoming bill of rights would lay out the basic standards airlines must adhere to, as well as the compensation passengers are entitled to if airlines don’t abide by the rules.
Currently, McCrimmon says Air Transat isn’t obliged to compensate the passengers on the flight diverted to Ottawa.
“Right now there are no consequences for what happened on the ramp,” she said. “The passengers, all they can do is complain about their situation. But there’s no requirement for the airline to actually reimburse or credit them for what happened to them on the flight.”
The bill will guarantee a passenger’s access to basic necessities like water, climate-controlled cabins, and access to washrooms, McCrimmon said. It will also set guidelines for how passengers have to be accommodated if they are bumped off an over booked flight.
Travellers will also be protected from involuntary removal from an aircraft, such as the case of a doctor who was violently dragged off a United Airlines flight from Chicago in April in an incident that left him with cuts and a bloodied face.
Some observers said that the bill may not go far enough. Gabor Lukacs, an air passenger rights advocate, noted that the Canadian Transportation Agency will be involved in working out the specifics of bill’s regulations. He said the agency is too cozy with the airlines it is supposed to be policing.
“It’s an empty shell,” Lukacs said of the bill. “What particularly troubles me about this is that it gives the false impression that there is something being done, while actually nothing is being done.”
Meanwhile an Air Canada flight was flown back to Toronto’s Pearson International Airport on Wednesday night due to an ‘unruly passenger’.
Peel Regional Police say a flight attendant was assaulted during an incident on board the aircraft and suffered minor injuries.
The flight was bound for Budapest and a police spokesman says he believes the plane was as far east as Nova Scotia when the pilot turned around and flew back to Toronto.
The unidentified passenger was arrested once back at Pearson and police say he is expected to appear in court on Thursday to face an assault charge.
There was no immediate information about the man’s age or nationality.
With file from The Canadian Press.