Feds Looking to Further Improve Passenger Rights Regulations Following Sunwing Travel Delays: Transport Minister

Feds Looking to Further Improve Passenger Rights Regulations Following Sunwing Travel Delays: Transport Minister
Minister of Transport Omar Alghabra rises during question period in the House of Commons in Ottawa on Dec. 1, 2022. (The Canadian Press/Justin Tang)
Peter Wilson

The federal government is looking into strengthening passenger rights regulations following extreme travel delays experienced by Sunwing Airlines customers over the holiday season, says Transport Minister Omar Alghabra.

“I had a meeting with Sunwing Airlines President and his team. I expressed to him the frustration that I felt on behalf of Canadians, and I know many, many of their customers felt, and I posed many questions to him,” said Alghabra on an episode of the Vassy Kapelos Show podcast on iHeartRadio on Jan. 5.
Alghabra said that the Liberal government, under which the Canadian Transportation Agency (CTA) introduced “Air Passenger Protection Regulations” in 2019, is looking to build upon the regulations going forward in an effort to prevent major travel delays in the future.
“We have improved it a few months ago,” he said, referring to a new regulation put in place by the CTA in September that required airlines to give full refunds to customers for cancellations and delays if they were not put on another flight within 48 hours, regardless of whether the delays were within the airline’s control.

“Now we’re looking at, further, what else can we learn from this to strengthen the system?” Alghabra said.

Liberal MP Peter Schiefke, chair of the House of Commons transport committee, said earlier this week that he will be convening a meeting on both international and local travel delays over the holidays that saw some Canadians stranded abroad long past their planned return dates.
Passengers on some VIA Rail trains also experienced major delays, with some being stranded for over 18 hours in the days before Christmas due to extreme weather. At least one train was derailed.


Schiefke said he would be calling on representatives from both VIA Rail and Sunwing to testify, but did not mention requesting Alghabra’s appearance.

Five committee members—one NDP and four Conservatives—wrote to Schiefke on Jan. 4 asking him to both expedite the meeting and call on Alghabra to testify.

The committee is now set to meet on Jan. 9 without any witnesses.

Alghabra said Jan. 5 that “Canadians understand” that extreme weather events will occasionally impact the airline sector and result in travel disruptions.

“But what seemed to be unacceptable was the lack of communication about when the recovery will take place, when the repatriation will take place, and [Sunwing] certainly left a lot of their customers in the dark,” he said.

“They had very little slack in their operation to accommodate that stress, that extreme weather, leading to those frustrating incidents.”

On Jan, 5, Sunwing issued a public apology to their customers who experienced delays, but noted that the majority of their holiday-season passengers “enjoyed their holidays with minimal disruption.”
“We regret that we did not meet the level of service our customers expect from Sunwing,” Sunwing Travel Group CEO Stephen Hunter and Sunwing Airlines president Len Corrado said in a joint statement.

“We had clear failures in execution, particularly in responding to weather-related delays and the aftermath of severe weather disruptions, which limited our ability to reposition aircraft and crew to other airports to help alleviate the backlog in flights.”

The Canadian Press and Isaac Teo contributed to this report.