The Canadian Transportation Agency (CTA) has ruled that Air Transat (TS) broke its agreement with passengers when it left them stranded on two aircrafts on the tarmac of the Ottawa International Airport (YOW)a on July 31, 2007. The airline was fined CDN$295,000 and ordered to compensate passengers for any out-of-pocket expenses related to the flight delays.
Air Transat is a Canadian airline based in Montreal, Canada. The airline operates scheduled and chartered flights to leisure markets in North America and Europe. Two separate Air Transat flights destined to Montreal’s Pierre Trudeau International Airport (YUL) from Rome’s Leonardo da Vinci–Fiumicino Airport (FCO) and Brussels Airport (BRU) were diverted to Ottawa due to weather. CTA agreed that this diversion was out of the airline’s controls. What happened after the aircrafts landed was the subject of an extensive inquiry.
Once landed, passengers on the Brussels and Rome flights were stranded inside the aircrafts for six and four hours respectively without food, drinks or the the opportunity to disembark. One flight’s air conditioning also broke down during the ordeal. The supply of food/drinks and the opportunity to disembark is part of the Air Transat’s tariff. The latter is specifically considered after the aircraft has been grounded for 90 minutes and if the captain decides it is safe to do so.
During the incident, the airline reported that there were insufficient resources (i.e refuelling information, staircase, etc) available from the airport to allow for disembarkment while the airport stated that there were no separate requests by Air Transat to offload passengers.
After the inquiry was completed, the CTA ruled that the airline had the full responsibility to ensure that its tariff is enacted and work with the airport authority to manage passenger needs once the aircrafts were grounded. The airline acknowledged this ruling and provided additional compensation to passengers on the affected flights.
Additional Change Ordered
The CTA also ordered Air Transat to make changes to its procedures to ensure similar incidents will not occur again. These procedures include:
- Train all employees involved in offering services during onboard delays about the legal obligations under its tariff.
- Amend its tariff to include a requirement to update passengers every 30 minutes and deplane passengers after four hours of delay if it is safe by Feb. 27, 2018.
- Provide a stricter definition of events that release it from contractual obligations.
Passenger Bill Of Rights
The Canadian federal government has been working on a passenger bill of rights as part of Bill C-49 – Transportation Modernization Act. First reported by Experience The Skies in May 2017, this act introduced specific criteria for inclusion in airlines’ tariffs to manage such items as voluntary or involuntary denied boarding (“bumping”), delays, cancellations, passenger re-routing, and lost or damaged baggage.
At a minimum, all Canadian air carriers must:
- Set tariff terms and conditions that respect certain legal requirements, are reasonable and fair, and applied the same way for everyone, as much as possible;
- Clearly display the tariff at their offices and on their websites; and
- Apply the terms and conditions of carriage as stated in their tariff.
As of December 1, 2017, this bill is in the second reading at the Senate and is expected to pass by 2018.
How Can Airlines Do Better?
In the age of social media and real time reporting, airlines and airports face more scrutiny when there are disruptions. This may have reputational and financial impacts to the parties involved. Airlines can manage passenger expectations better by proactively engaging with airport authorities to build processes in handling disruptions at all airports that it serves.
The processes should include the following key items:
- Assessment of tariffs and how they should be handled in different disruptive scenarios
- Communication and training on relevant procedures by staff
- Timely testing of these procedures as part of onboarding or annual training requirements
- Monitoring and feedback mechanism for the airline to set goals on beginning a better passenger experience
- Third party tests by independent sources to verify that the procedures work as intended (e.g. simulate a disruption or perform a drill by working with the airport authorities)
In addition, the airline should introduce a communication protocol (online, telephone, direct communication on board) to provide passengers with timely and relevant information on any form of disruption. Bad news is better than no news especially when passengers are faced with unknowns and heightened anxiety. Proactively handling disruptions, delays and cancellations can generate goodwill for the airline.