The air­ing of griev­ances

Pas­sen­ger rights: What you should know if you’re stranded on a plane

Ottawa Sun - - NEWS - OLIVIA BLACK­MORE oblack­more@post­media.com twitter.com/olivi­a_blckmr

Air­line pas­sen­ger rights ad­vo­cate Ga­bor Lukacs says air trav­ellers have many rights when things go wrong, but the rules gov­ern­ing those rights just aren’t be­ing en­forced.

When an air­line seeks per­mis­sion to op­er­ate in­ter­na­tion­ally, it cre­ates a doc­u­ment known as a tar­iff, Lukacs says. The tar­iff ad­dresses a wealth of is­sues re­lat­ing to the both the air­line and pas­sen­gers that “are not merely rec­om­men­da­tions. “These are bind­ing — what­ever is in the tar­iff is very much legally bind­ing on the air­line,” the Hal­i­faxbased Lukacs says, adding that it is the Cana­dian Trans­porta­tion Agency that is charged with en­forc­ing those rights. The fed­eral agency has launched an in­quiry into why pas­sen­gers were forced to spend hours on two Air Transat jets that were di­verted to Ot­tawa last week from Mon­treal be­cause of se­vere weather. Pas­sen­gers spent six hours trapped aboard one plane on the tar­mac.

Sev­eral pas­sen­gers called 911 af­ter the plane ran out of drink­ing wa­ter and fuel, leav­ing it with­out air con­di­tion­ing.

One per­son was treated on the plane and pas­sen­gers were given bot­tled wa­ter.

The Sun spoke to Lukacs on Mon­day about what pas­sen­gers can do should they find them­selves in a sim­i­lar sit­u­a­tion.

Q: Is 90 min­utes the min­i­mum amount of time that a pas­sen­ger has to wait be­fore they can ask to leave the air­craft?

A: Yes. (Ac­cord­ing to Air Transat’s tar­iff: “If the de­lay ex­ceeds 90 min­utes and if the air­craft com­man­der per­mits, the Car­rier will of­fer pas­sen­gers the op­tion of dis­em­bark­ing un­til it is time to de­part.”)

Q: In sit­u­a­tions such as last week’s, what can pas­sen­gers do? Should they call 911? A: Ab­so­lutely, yes. I think that was a very good idea and I would en­cour­age pas­sen­gers to do that in the fu­ture. The air­line has no right what­so­ever to keep you con­fined to the air­craft for that long, and if you want to dis­em­bark also make sure that (you) tell the air­line that you would like to dis­em­bark and pull out a copy of the air­line’s terms and con­di­tions and po­litely and re­spect­fully show it to the air­line em­ploy­ees. Ad­vise them that if they are not go­ing to let you off that you will be call­ing 911. Q: Should pas­sen­gers also be tweet­ing for help?

A: Ab­so­lutely. So­cial me­dia was very im­por­tant here. I would also sug­gest tak­ing out your cell­phones and be­gin to record. Even if air­line em­ploy­ees tell you you can­not, keep record­ing. Don’t worry about it. You do have the right to record, es­pe­cially when you are in a dire sit­u­a­tion. Don’t let the air­line get away with it.

Q: What should pas­sen­gers do af­ter they have ex­pe­ri­enced an in­ci­dent like this one?

A: When some­thing like this hap­pens, take the air­line to court af­ter the in­ci­dent. Make sure that it costs the air­line money to do what they have done to you. Q: Why take the air­line to court af­ter?

A: Air­lines are not go­ing to change their be­hav­iour just be­cause it’s the right thing to do. We live in a world where air­lines will change course if the fi­nan­cial cost of fol­low­ing a dif­fer­ent course or stay­ing on a cur­rent course is too high. With lit­i­ga­tion you can make sure that there is a pub­lic im­age cost to the air­line, there is a fi­nan­cial cost for lit­i­ga­tion, there is po­ten­tially a risk for a bad case law for the air­line. When you com­bine all of this, it’s im­por­tant to at­tach a price tag for not fol­low­ing the rules.

Q: Would the pas­sen­gers stranded in Ot­tawa be en­ti­tled to mone­tary com­pen­sa­tion for be­ing kept or hours on the plane?

A: There are two sep­a­rate is­sues for which pas­sen­gers can and should seek com­pen­sa­tion from Air Transat. The first is the de­lay. The flight’s desti­na­tion was Mon­treal, but it departed from within the EU. Since the de­lay was over three hours, Air Transat owes mone­tary com­pen­sa­tion (in cash, not vouch­ers), and since the de­lay was over four hours on a transat­lantic flight, Air Transat owes 600 eu­ros per pas­sen­ger — again, in cash. Se­condly, breach of con­tract/ be­ing con­fined to the air­craft for a long time: The amount of com­pen­sa­tion is to be de­ter­mined by a court. But I sus­pect that a Que­bec small claims court judge would award at least $1,000 per pas­sen­ger for this, pos­si­bly more.

More in­for­ma­tion is avail­able at www. air­pas­sen­ger­rights.ca.

“Air­lines are not go­ing to change their be­hav­iour just be­cause it’s the right thing to do.”

GA­BOR LUKACS

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