Air-travel complaints soaring
Increase is due to outreach efforts, CTA official says
The Canadian Transportation Agency is on track to receive nearly as many air-traveller complaints this month as it did in all of 201516, but it doesn’t blame the airlines for its sudden spike in workload.
Instead, CTA head Scott Streiner said the huge increase in complaints is the result of a concerted effort by the agency to raise its profile as a resource for disgruntled passengers.
“It’s working,” Streiner said in an interview, with characteristic understatement. “I see the increase in numbers as reflecting the fact that there were a bunch of people who thought they were out of luck in the past, and now they have an organization they can turn to.”
The CTA started its outreach efforts — on social media, in airports and even on airplanes — in the summer of 2016, and the response was immediate.
In September, the number of complaints rose to 195 from 86 a year earlier; in October, to 250 from 65; in November, to 307 from 72; in December, to 453 from 89; and in the first 27 days of January, to 581.
WestJet Airlines Ltd. said it only accounts for a small portion of the CTA’s overall complaints — 36 out of 561 in 2015-16 — and any increase this year is the result of significant passenger growth and increased awareness of the CTA.
“While it is true that WestJet’s CTA complaint numbers have gone up slightly year-over-year, our network has also grown,” said spokeswoman Lauren Stewart.
Air Canada agreed that the jump in complaints is the result of the CTA’s efforts to raise its profile rather than a deterioration in customer service.
“We certainly agree with the CTA chairman that standards have not declined — in fact, we have invested significantly in improving the customer experience — and that this reflects instead the CTA’s awareness campaign,” Air Canada spokesman Peter Fitzpatrick said.
To meet the upsurge in demand, the CTA is reassigning staff and making efforts to speed up its dispute-resolution process, Streiner said.
The CTA is an independent regulator that sets rules and resolves disputes relating to air, rail and marine transportation. It is in the midst of a four-part initiative to modernize its regulations, with separate phases focused on accessible transportation, air transportation, consumer protection for air travellers and rail transportation.
The Canadian Transportation Agency reports that the number of air-traveller complaints it receives has been increasing dramatically.