Did Air Transat flout Canadian aviation rules?

Courtesy Air Transat

Following up on complaints about the delays of two Air Transat flights on July 31 at Ottawa International Airport, Canada’s air transportation agency is said to be investigating whether Air Transat has flouted the rules. (See Air Transat delays raise passengers’ ire, Aug 2, 2017)

The agency said the airline signed a document that sets out, among other things, an airline’s rights and responsibilities towards its passengers. According to that tariff, in the case of an on-board delay of more than 90 minutes, Air Transat promises to offer passengers the option of getting off the plane.

Air Transat’s defense was that the exceptional congestion at the airport because of several flight diversions caused by bad weather at Montreal had resulted in airport staff not being able to cope with providing bridges for disembarkation. This claim was refuted by the airport authority, which maintained that air stairs and a gate were available but the airline did not make the decision to disembark its passengers.

It was not until a passenger on one of the two delayed Air Transat flights called 911 that emergency crew finally brought bottled water to the stranded passengers cooped up in the aircraft without air-conditioning.

According to Ottawa Airport spokesperson Krista Kealey, emergency crews had to deal with several medical calls and getting the Canada Border Services Agency to approve the opening of the cargo hold to check on a pet. The aircraft also had mechanical issues and needed to be refuelled.

The first Air Transat flight from Brussels sat on the tarmac for six hours after a journey of some nine hours. The second flight which was similarly diverted from Montreal was delayed for four hours.

The airport said there were 20 diversions, not 30 as claimed by Air Transat.

Air Transat said the situation was beyond its control. Yes, the weather bit, but the contention is its failing in not attending to the needs of its customers as a consequence. It is likely that following investigations by the transport agency, Air Transat may be required to compensate its passengers if it had not already thought about it. But this may again be a long road to resolution dependent on the terms of carriage.

Low-cost carriers that offer attractive travel packages may not be as equipped as full-service airlines in handling unexpected situations arising from delays and cancellations. And that’s not saying full-service airlines are necessarily better at the job all the time although it is expected so, since they are more likely to have the resources to deal with unplanned situations. Besides, from the customer’s point of view, that’s the price of their willingness to pay a higher fare.

Still, whether you fly low-cost or full-service, it is good to know your rights. And transport agencies administering civil aviation may be the traveller’s only hope of protecting his or her rights when it comes down to a case of David vs Goliath.

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Air Transat delays raise passengers’ ire

Two Air Transat flights from Europe bound for Montreal in Canada on July 31 were diverted to Ottawa because of the weather. Such diversions are not uncommon and no one should take an issue with that. But what an airline does next in such an event is critical, as this will likely decide how its customers will react, whether with anger and criticism or with understanding, even praise.

The first Air Transat flight from Brussels sat in the tarmac in Ottawa for 6 hours, with all the passengers kept on board after a journey of more than eight hours. The second flight was held at Ottawa airport for four hours.

One passenger on the first flight said that “people are just losing their minds”. There were complaints about no air-conditioning, the loss of power also causing the cabins to plunge into darkness, the lack of information, and the absence of adequate refreshments. So it seemed that whatever Air Transat was doing (or not doing), it was not enough. Subsequently one of the passengers called the police.

Most airlines would disembark their passengers if a delay is expected to be unduly long, notwithstanding there may be some restrictions pertaining to customs and immigration procedures. Passengers usually relish a change of environment instead of being cooped up in a plane especially when power is cut. Equally annoying is what is known as a creeping delay when the time for take-off keeps pushing back.

Air Transat said airport staff – because of the unusual amount of traffic – were unable to provide bridges or stairways to allow passengers to disembark. But Ottawa International Airport Authority spokesperson Krista Kealey said there were buses on standby in case the airline decided to disembark their passengers and process them through customs. “However,” she explained, “That decision was not taken by the airline, and ultimately it is the airline that is responsible for making those decisions about whether a flight disembarks.”

The Canadian government has been in the forefront advocating the protection of air travellers’ rights., having introduced legislation setting out national standards and measures that will apply to all airlines operating into and out of Canada. (See Canada acts to protect passengers; rights, May 20, 2017) Perhaps under the circumstances when an unduly long delay is anticipated, disembarking passengers should be made a mandatory requirement.

Yet did Air Transat even consider that option? And why not?

All airlines know that an aircraft delay can be a costly affair – from the use of airport facilities and engaging airport agency staff to handle the situation to catering to the needs of passengers and incurring crew’s overtime. There may also be demands for compensation. Such are unnecessary costs, but things do not always go as planned.

By the way, Air Transat was not the only airline that was affected. According to Ms Kealey, there were 20 diversions due to severe weather. Wondering what the other airlines did?