Canada to pass legislation on over-booking flights

After the outpouring of anger over a United Airlines passenger who was injured when he was forcibly removed from a flight, the Canadian government announced that it will pass legislation to address the problem.

A spokesperson for Transport Minister Marc Garneau, Marc Roy, said that rules about bumping will be included in an air passenger bill of rights. The bill had been promised last fall. The bill will require clear minimum requirements for compensation when flights are oversold or luggage is lost. Roy however did not say whether the legislation would set industry-wide standards or whether the compensation levels would be raised to match those in the United States or Europe.
Garneau, the Transport Minister, would not comment directly on the United Airlines incident in Chicago. He said he did not know if a passenger in Canada can be removed due to overbooking. Garneau said: “I certainly have seen what happened in the case of the United Airlines flight and that is why last November I announced that we would be putting in place what we call a regime of rights for passengers. We recognize that when a passenger books a ticket, they are entitled to certain rights.”
Gabor Lukacs, a passenger rights advocate, said the troubling video showing the forcible removal of the United Airline passenger showed the need for greater protection of the traveler. Lukacs said: “Sadly, people realize what bumping actually means only when an incident so extreme happens." Lukas said all airlines should be forced to have the same compensation limits rising to a maximum of $1,500 in line with the US. In 2013 Lukacs won a Canadian Transportation Agency case against Air Canada which required the airline to raise compensation to a maximum of $800 depending on the length of delay.
The usual reason for a person being forcibly removed from a flight is that they are drunk or regarded as a threat. However, Lukacs pointed out:“If for any reason the airline tells you you need to leave, you have to leave. You don’t get a choice, you cannot argue about whether you have to leave or not because it is their aircraft.” Airlines overbook flights as a hedge against people not showing up. However not all airlines do it. Both Westjet Airlines and Air Transat said they do not intentionally overbook flights. Air Canada does but claims that bumping is rare. Spokesperson Peter Fitzpatrick said in an email: “We appreciate this is inconvenient for customers and we do take a very conservative approach to avoid this situation arising and when it does, we pay significant compensation.”
CEO of U.S.-based FareCompare.com, Rick Seaney, said that he had never seen anything such as happened on the United flight. He said that airlines typically raise the amount of compensation until someone volunteers to take a later flight. The Canadian Transportation Agency said it had received 55 complaints about overbooking in 2015-16 which was less than 4 percent of all the complaints filed.
The United Airlines incident that caused all the fuss was a flight from Chicago to Louisville. A United spokesperson said: “Flight 3411 from Chicago to Louisville was overbooked. After our team looked for volunteers, one customer refused to leave the aircraft voluntarily and law enforcement was asked to come to the gate. We apologize for the overbook situation.” The Chicago Department of Aviation(CDA) officers dragged the man off the plane. Karen Pride, spokesperson for the CDA said: “The incident on United flight 3411 was not in accordance with our standard operating procedure and the actions of the aviation security officer are obviously not condoned by the Department. That officer has been placed on leave effective today pending a thorough review of the situation.”
Joseph D'Cruz, of the Rotman School of Management at the University of Toronto said that airlines overbook to save money:“Airlines overbook because very often people book a flight and then don’t show up. It’s called a no show. And the no-show rate can vary depending on the route. So in order to protect themselves from having empty seats on the plane, they overbook.” In Canada the federal government has not mandated any sort of compensation for those who are bumped D'Cruz said. Airlines apparently offer whatever is sufficient to entice a person to give up their seat. The United airlines case shows how few rights the traveler has.
United's Contract of Carriage says:"If a flight is Oversold, no one may be denied boarding against his/her will until UA or other carrier personnel first ask for volunteers who will give up their reservations willingly in exchange for compensation as determined by UA. If there are not enough volunteers, other Passengers may be denied boarding involuntarily in accordance with UA’s boarding priority." Passengers with disabilities, and minors under 18 will be the last to denied boarding. United policy further states: "The priority of all other confirmed passengers may be determined based on a passenger’s fare class, itinerary, status of frequent flyer program membership, and the time in which the passenger presents him/herself for check-in without advanced seat assignment." In the United States the biggest US airlines bumped 475,054 passengers from flights in 2016.


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