Air-travel com­plaints soar­ing

In­crease is due to out­reach ef­forts, CTA of­fi­cial says

Saskatoon StarPhoenix - - FINANCIAL POST - KRIS­TINE OWRAM Fi­nan­cial Post kowram@post­media.com

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.

GETTY IMAGES

The Cana­dian Trans­porta­tion Agency re­ports that the num­ber of air-trav­eller com­plaints it re­ceives has been in­creas­ing dra­mat­i­cally.

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