Mounting complaints spark federal inquiry into airlines' reasons for denying flight delay compensation

The Canadian Transportation Agency has launched an inquiry into allegations from passengers that airlines aren't adequately explaining their reasons for denying compensation for delayed flights. 

The federal government introduced new regulations on Dec. 15 mandating that airlines must pay up to $1,000 in compensation for a flight delay or cancellation that's within the airline's control and not safety-related. 

When an airline denies a passenger compensation, it must explain why,

The CTA said it has received "multiple" complaints from passengers who were not satisfied with the explanations they got. As a result, the agency will spend the next six weeks investigating the complaints and gathering evidence from the airlines involved.

"Airlines have an obligation, under the [new regulations] to provide timely, accurate information to passengers on the reasons for flight delays and cancellations," CTA CEO Scott Streiner said in a statement. "This inquiry will look into allegations that in some cases airlines haven't lived up to this obligation."

The inquiry follows a CBC News story on Sunday featuring several passengers who said they were "baffled" by Air Canada's reasons for denying them compensation for delayed flights. 

Since the story's publication, more than 70 people have contacted CBC News, detailing their cases and questioning why their requests for compensation were rejected.

Most of the cases involved Air Canada, which is the country's largest airline. Complaints included one travel partner scoring compensation while their mate didn't for the same flight, and incidents where the stated reason for a flight delay changed when compensation was requested.

'It's frustrating'

Adam Palamar, of Victoria, said the explanation Air Canada provided him for a lengthy delay was "unacceptable." 

On Dec. 31, he received an email notice a few hours before takeoff that his flight from Ottawa to Victoria was cancelled. No reason was provided. 

When Palamar rebooked his flight, he said an Air Canada agent told him that the airline had sent him the notice in error and that his flight actually did take off — without him.

Palamar concluded he would be entitled to $1,000 in compensation for his trip delay of more than nine hours. 

But when he filed a claim, Air Canada turned him down, stating the delay was caused by bad weather, which is outside of the airline's control and doesn't warrant compensation. Palamar sent an email contesting the decision, but Air Canada wouldn't budge. 

"It's frustrating that they've denied me compensation after me explaining myself extensively," said Palamar. "Either they didn't understand or they were intentionally trying to avoid compensating me."

Air Canada said it fully intends to abide by the new regulations and deals directly with its customers. 

In response to the CTA inquiry, the airline stated in an email that growing pains are to be expected and that it "will take this inquiry as an opportunity to clarify the details of this complex legislation."

Air Canada also said that it has carried eight million passengers since Dec. 15, and that the "relatively small number of complaints" the CTA has received show that the airline complies with the rules. 

Compensation retracted

CBC News has also received a handful of complaints from WestJet passengers. They include Tyler Borden, of Calgary, who was initially promised $1,000 in compensation — and then WestJet rescinded it.

Borden's flight from St. John's to Calgary on Jan. 7 was delayed by more than nine hours due to what the airline called "crew member availability." 

When Borden filed a claim, WestJet responded that he would receive $1,000 in compensation as the staffing issue was within the airline's control. 

"I was pretty excited," said Borden. 

But that excitement died about 20 minutes later when he received a second email stating that WestJet had made a mistake and he was getting zero compensation. No explanation was provided, even after he complained multiple times to the airline.

"It's just unreasonable," said Borden. "It's disappointing that it ended with them just basically blindsiding me and not explaining why."

Submitted by Tyler Borden

WestJet told CBC News in an email that it adheres to the Air Passenger Protection Regulations and "continues to work with the CTA to ensure compliance."

The airline also said that it's looking into Borden's complaint.

Dissatisfied with the outcome of their cases, both Borden and Palamar have filed complaints with the CTA.

Now their cases will be one of many the CTA investigates to determine if some airlines aren't abiding by the new regulations. CEO Streiner said that if wrongdoing is uncovered, the CTA will "take appropriate action."