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Canadian government invests $76M to process 'record number' of air travel complaints

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The Canadian government will provide close to $76-million over three years to the Canadian Transport Agency (CTA) after the independent agency received a “record number” of recent air traveller complaints.

The announcement was made Tuesday by Minister of Transportation Omar Alghabra at Toronto Pearson International Airport at 10 a.m. Alghabra was joined by MP for Mississauga–Streetsville Rechie Valdez and MP for Brampton Centre Shafqat Ali.

“Since 2019, our government has always provided more resources to the CTA to help implement the Passenger Bill of Rights, but it's clear that even more resources are now needed to clear the backlog,” Alghabra said while speaking to reporters. “So today, I'm announcing that we are providing close to $76-million more over three years to the agency to reduce the backlog of complaints and make sure travelers get the money they're entitled to.”

The total investment is $75.9-million, according to a release issued by the Canadian government Tuesday.

The money is meant to assist the CTA in working through a backlog of more than 40,000 complaints, the minister said.

On more than one occasion in the last year, Canada’s airline industry has been significantly affected by “massive disruptions that contributed to the challenges we saw last summer and over the winter holiday season,” Alghabra said.

In July 2022, the airlines operating out of Pearson Airport were ranked the worst in the world for delays by FlightAware, and, two months later, the airport was ranked fourth-worst major airport in the world for overall satisfaction by a J.P. Power survey.

Six months later, in December, the airport once again came under fire after a “baggage backlog” caused by weather-related flight disruptions, airline staffing issues, as well as frozen loading equipment saw hundreds of travellers separated from their luggage. Images from Pearson airport in December showed hundreds of bags piled up after a major winter storm caused days of flight delays and cancellations.

The new investment will allow the quasi-judicial agency to hire about 200 additional employees “to handle complaints and improve procedures” over the next three years, the ministry said.

Alghabra also said that travellers can expect “major changes” to Canadian passengers’ rights coming this spring.

“The specifics of these rules will be tabled in the House of Commons this spring, so I will leave the specifics until we are able to talk about them,” the minister said. “But yes, we are strengthening and clarifying and simplifying the rules for passenger protection.

Last month, the Minister said that Canada's airline protocols need to be "reviewed" while testifying at the House Transport Committee hearings after thousands of Canadian travellers were left delayed or stranded over the recent holiday season.

Testifying alongside a panel of departmental officials, he said that a "full examination of what happened" is already underway and that the federal government would take action accordingly.

"Our government is not hiding. We are going to assume our responsibilities and the industry must assume theirs… We will continue to work together so that this never happens again," he said.

ARTICIFIAL INTELLIGENCE COMING TO TORONTO PEARSON

The Greater Toronto Airports Authority also announced a new partnership with artificial intelligence company Assaia on Tuesday, which will see the deployment of Assaia ApronAI at all 106 of Pearson's gates.

“Assaia provides an artificial intelligence solution to track every aspect of aircraft turnaround performance—physically preparing an aircraft when it lands until it takes off again for a new flight,” a release issued Tuesday stated.

“By monitoring what is happening around the aircraft in real time, the data will be used to highlight and address inefficiencies, and to provide accurate estimates of timeliness to increase gate availability, improve on-time performance and be more transparent with passengers.”

Assaia technology is already available at Seattle-Tacoma Airport, Halifax Stanfield Airport, British Airways, and London Gatwick Airport, among others.

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