The strike by federal civil servants could mean passengers who filed complaints with the country’s airline regulator could face even longer processing times.
A backlog of complaints on issues ranging from lost luggage to compensation for cancelled flights now sits at nearly 45,000, with a processing time of 18 months per case on average, according to the Canadian Transportation Agency.
That’s more than triple the tally from a year ago after travel chaos erupted during the summer and winter holidays due to soaring demand, labour shortages and poor weather.
Employees at the regulator are among the 155,000-plus members of the Public Service Alliance of Canada that launched a strike Wednesday.
The agency said in an e-mail it will continue to receive complaints, “but their processing will be delayed due to the labour situation affecting administrative support necessary to carry out those functions.”
Some 154 of the agency’s 327 employees are involved in the strike action, said spokesman Vincent Turgeon. Of those, 71 work directly on processing air passenger complaints.
Regulatory activities such as the issuing of air licences as well as rulings on air, rail and marine issues will continue, “with possible delays,” the regulator said in a separate online post.
Gabor Lukacs, president of the Air Passenger Rights advocacy group, said the stack of complaints is now so high that even a strike of several weeks would barely register for most Canadians awaiting a case resolution.
“On top of those 18 months, we’d have two more weeks. I mean, it’s a farce,” Lukacs said.
“It is one office that you could easily shut down for a month and you wouldn’t notice the difference.”
Last month, Transport Minister Omar Alghabra pledged $75.9 million over three years to chip away at the complaints backlog by hiring 200 more employees.
He also promised to tighten passenger rights rules, following up on the January pledge with legislation tabled in the House of Commons on Thursday.
The agency said Friday it has hired 100 more employees since the March 14 funding announcement, including workers whose contracts were extended due to the extra cash.