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Passengers wait in line to board their flight at Toronto's Pearson airport, March 18, 2012. (J.P. MOCZULSKI For The Globe and Mail)
Passengers wait in line to board their flight at Toronto's Pearson airport, March 18, 2012. (J.P. MOCZULSKI For The Globe and Mail)

Globe editorial

Airlines need to do better Add to ...

(Includes correction)

It is hard to conceive of anything more frustrating than being stuck in an airplane for 13.5 hours, without ever leaving the ground.

That is what happened to 200 passengers stranded for the length of time it takes to fly from Toronto to Tel Aviv on the tarmac at Pearson International Airport on Feb. 8. The Sunwing Airlines flight to Panama and Costa Rica finally took off 17 hours after its scheduled departure. According to one passenger, all that was offered was a granola bar, corn snacks and water (though later Sunwing did give passengers a $25 food voucher).

Yes, there was a terrible snowstorm that day, and Pearson’s de-icing machines had broken down. But Canada is a northern climate and severe weather is something for which there ought to be provision. If the industry does not take more initiative, MPs should consider changes to federal law similar to the ideas contained in the proposed Bill C-459, introduced by José Nunez-Melo, an NDP MP from Laval, Que.

The Air Passengers’ Rights bill sets out the right for passengers to be informed about delays, and policies around rerouting, cancellations, delays as well as “tarmac rights.” These are not radical measures. In fact, they are in keeping with those imposed by the U.S. Department of Transportation, which stipulates a three-hour limit for domestic flight delays, and a four-hour limit for international delays. (Otherwise, the airline must pay a large fine.) Bill C-459 would make it obligatory for passengers who are delayed on the tarmac to be offered food and drinks, as well as the option of disembarking; otherwise, they would be entitled to compensation.

This bill, in its second reading in the House of Commons, is unlikely to pass; a similar one was defeated in 2009. The threat of such legislation, however, should provoke airlines to do better. Unlike in the U.S. and the European Union, Canadian airlines set their own policies around cancellations and tarmac rights. Dissatisfied customers can launch complaints with the Canadian Transportation Agency.

The airline industry needs to set its standards higher and adhere to professional standards and transparency – before it is forced to.

Editor’s Note

An earlier version of this editorial incorrectly said that the number of complaints to the Canadian Transportation Agency had risen in recent years.

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