Bring on the pas­sen­ger bill of rights for plane travel

The Chatham Daily News - - OPINION - CE­LINE COOPER

The Cana­dian gov­ern­ment re­cently an­nounced it will in­tro­duce an air­line pas­sen­ger bill of rights in the spring. Al­though Trans­port Min­is­ter Marc Garneau has not re­leased any specifics, the pro­posed leg­is­la­tion comes as wel­come news.

The announcement comes as videos show­ing the vi­o­lent re­moval of Dr. David Dao, 69, from a United Air­lines flight at Chicago’s O’Hare airport on April 9 have sparked wide­spread con­dem­na­tion and calls for a boy­cott. Dao was dragged from his seat by three se­cu­rity guards af­ter re­fus­ing to “vol­un­tar­ily” give up his seat on a flight that had been over­booked. The as­sault left him bleed­ing and in need of med­i­cal treat­ment.

The im­ages are shock­ing. I’ve done my share of trav­el­ling over the years, and I’ve never wit­nessed any­thing like this. As far as I know, this is not stan­dard prac­tice for air­lines that over­book their flights in the U.S. or any­where else. Nor should it ever be.

To be clear, it’s le­gal for air­lines to over­book flights and bump pas­sen­gers off. (If I’m hon­est, this came as a surprise to me. Note to self: al­ways read the fine print.) While the gov­ern­ment of Canada does have a web­site de­tail­ing your rights as an air pas­sen­ger, Canada lacks leg­is­la­tion spell­ing out whether pas­sen­gers can be forcibly re­moved from a flight be­cause of over­book­ing. Nor do we have any set reg­u­la­tions in­di­cat­ing com­pen­sa­tion air­lines must pay when they over­book, or when a flight is de­layed or can­celled.

Trav­el­ling used to be half the fun of get­ting there. That is no longer the case. For many peo­ple, fly­ing has be­come an ex­pe­ri­ence that must be en­dured, a trial for even the most adept trav­ellers. Once you check in at the airport, you have ab­so­lutely no con­trol over the process. When things go awry — a can­celled or de­layed flight, a missed con­nec­tion, lost bag­gage or fam­i­lies not seated to­gether, for ex­am­ple — of­ten all you can do is rely on the pro­fes­sion­al­ism of har­ried front-line staff faced with the bal­loon­ing de­mands of grumpy, tired trav­ellers.

Of course, air­lines also know we’re will­ing to put up with a whole lot in ex­change for a cheap flight.

Ex­am­ple: My fam­ily re­cently flew on a dis­count air­line from Mon­treal to Costa Rica for spring break. Af­ter a short stopover in Toronto, we boarded and set­tled in. The poor guys be­hind us were sit­ting on soggy, sticky seats cov­ered in ap­ple juice from the pre­vi­ous pas­sen­gers, and the only food avail­able for pur­chase dur­ing the seven-hour flight to San José ended up be­ing pack­ages of Swedish berries and luke­warm noo­dles-in-a-cup soup. Ir­ri­tat­ing? Yes. End of the world? No.

Part of trav­el­ling is ex­pect­ing the un­ex­pected and learn­ing to roll with it.

But if air­lines are per­mit­ted to over­book and bump pas­sen­gers off flights for which they have paid and pre­sented them­selves, Canada should in­tro­duce a pas­sen­ger bill of rights that will, at the very least, spell out fair com­pen­sa­tion — a ho­tel room, food and drink, fi­nan­cial com­pen­sa­tion or prompt reschedul­ing onto an­other flight — and rules re­gard­ing forcible re­moval. The gov­ern­ment of Canada is right to pro­pose leg­is­la­tion that will hold air­lines to ac­count.

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