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People line up before entering the security zone at Pearson International Airport in Toronto on Aug. 5, 2022.Nathan Denette/The Canadian Press

The federal government promised in its 2023 budget to address “unacceptable flight delays, long lineups at airports, and mishandled baggage” that affected Canadians last year by strengthening the rights of passengers and improving their experience at airports.

The budget proposes $1.8-billion over five years to the Canadian Air Transport Security Authority (CATSA) to maintain and increase service levels, improve screening wait times and strengthen airport security measures. The budget also proposes legislative changes that will require sharing and reporting of data by airports and airlines to reduce delays and improve co-ordination. Transport Canada will get $5.2-million over five years to collect and analyze air-sector performance data.

To help pay for the CATSA funding, the government said it would increase the security charge levied on air travellers by 32.85 per cent starting May 1, 2024. Fees for a one-way domestic flight will rise to $9.94 from $7.48; for an international flight, they will increase to $34.42 from $25.91. It’s the first time since 2010 that the government has raised the fee.

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The government said it would amend the Canada Transportation Act to beef up airline obligations to compensate passengers for delays and cancellations. The budget stated the changes would “align Canada’s air passenger rights regime with those of leading international approaches and ensure that Canadians are fairly compensated for travel delays that are within airlines’ control.”

It also pledged to change the act to make the Canadian Transportation Agency’s complaint adjudication process more efficient and to give the Transport Minister the authority to impose a regulatory charge on airlines to help cover costs of resolving complaints by air passengers. The government this month committed $76-million over three years to CTA to support tougher measures to respond to customer-service issues.

Ottawa has been under pressure from the travelling public and business groups to tackle logjams at airports.

The resurgence in air travel in the summer of 2022 was marred by long waits in terminals and on planes amid shortages of employees at airports, airlines and among the government contractors that screen passengers. The troubles extended to the recent Christmas season, when two snowstorms hampered or halted aircraft movements at several airlines. Passengers complained of lost luggage, delayed or cancelled flights and holidays that were entirely called off.

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In other service pledges, Ottawa also committed $157-million over four years and $14.4-million a year after that to Veterans Affairs Canada, the Royal Canadian Mounted Police and the Veterans Review and Appeal Board to cut backlogs and improve service delivery. That follows efforts to cut backlogs by more than 60 per cent in the past three years after the government hired 350 staff to speed up processing.

The government is also proposing to spend $124-million over seven years to modernize information technology used to deliver Old Age Security benefits, and $17.7-million over four years to increase capacity at 1-800 O-Canada call centres and to improve its website.

The budget also committed $210-million over five years to VIA Rail to conduct maintenance on its trains on routes outside the Windsor-Quebec City corridor and to maintain service levels across its network.

With a report from Eric Atkins