Increasing Frustration With Lengthy Processing of Air Passenger Complaints: CTA Survey

Increasing Frustration With Lengthy Processing of Air Passenger Complaints: CTA Survey
An Air Canada aircraft is parked at a gate at Vancouver International Airport in Richmond, B.C., on Dec. 26, 2022. (Darryl Dyck/The Canadian Press)
Matthew Horwood
A growing number of Canadians are dissatisfied with the time it takes to resolve air passenger complaints, according to four internal surveys conducted by the Canadian Transportation Agency (CTA).

The CTA is responsible for enforcing rules that require an airline to compensate passengers when a flight is delayed or cancelled for a reason within the airline’s control. Since those rules came into effect in 2019, thousands of passengers have filed complaints alleging that airlines denied them compensation.

The surveys showed the CTA has struggled to process complaints in a timely manner. According to the 2019 survey, 25 percent of passengers were either dissatisfied or very dissatisfied with the time it took for the agency to process their complaint. In the 2022 survey, that number jumped to 71 percent.

Michelle Greenshields, head of the dispute resolution branch at the CTA, told the House of Commons transport committee in November 2022 that it can take up to 18 months to process a single complaint, even as the CTA attempts to “batch” complaints from the same flight to save time.

The backlog of complaints to the CTA regarding delayed or cancelled flights or lost luggage reached more than 30,000 in November 2022, up from 18,000 over the summer.

Twenty percent of respondents to the surveys between 2019 and 2021 said they were dissatisfied with the CTA’s quality of service, while 72 percent of respondents told the 2021 survey they had a good experience overall with the agency. However, 53 percent of those who took the 2022 survey said they weren’t happy with their overall experience with CTA.

On Tuesday, Transport Minister Omar Alghabra said he plans on closing a loophole in air passenger protections that has allowed airlines to deny travellers compensation in the case of safety-related concerns cancelling or delaying flights.

“Obviously, we don’t want planes to fly when it’s unsafe to do so, but there are certain things that are within the control of the airlines, and we need to have clear rules that put the responsibility on the airlines when it’s their responsibility,” he said.

Alghabra also announced nearly $76 million in funding over the next three years to help deal with the massive backlog of air passenger complaints. He said the funding will allow the transport regulator to hire 200 more employees to help manage the 42,000-complaint backlog.

When pressed by reporters, Alghabra said while the backlog won’t be eliminated “overnight,” the new funding will help the organization process complaints more quickly. He expects the added resources will more than double the CTA’s capacity to deal with complaints.

“I want Canadians to feel confident that we’re taking action and that the CTA is doing whatever they can to process these complaints as quickly as possible,” Alghabra said.