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Air Canada customers say claims wrongly denied under new passenger rules

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Anxious to get home after the holidays, Carla Di Censo and her husband were furious when Air Canada cancelled their flight from Prince George, B.C., to Vancouver less than nine hours before take-off on New Year’s Eve. The disruption caused the couple and their young daughter to miss their connecting flight home to Ottawa.

“We were like, ‘What on earth is happening?’” Di Censo told Global News. “It took several hours to get through and ask [Air Canada] what was the reason for the delay. We were told on the phone: ‘crew constraints.’”

That information also appears in flight-status screenshots Di Censo provided to Global News.

As Di Censo’s flight was rescheduled a full 24 hours later, she, her husband and daughter made separate claims to Air Canada for compensation of $1,000 each under the newly created Air Passenger Protection Regulations (APPR), which lay out airlines’ obligations to passengers for issues like flights disruptions and lost or damaged luggage.

The family’s claims, however, were all initially rejected. In communication seen by Global News, Air Canada justified the denials saying, “the delay was caused by an event outside of our control.” The airline’s message, however, incorrectly referenced a number of flights that, while part of the family’s trip, were not part of the claim.

Di Censo’s story is one of nearly a dozen involving Air Canada passengers who spoke to Global News who said they believe the airline is intentionally mis-referencing flights or misrepresenting the cause of flight delays. They claim Air Canada is doing this to avoid paying compensation under new rules that came into effect in December.

A screenshot indicating the wrong dates of Di Censo’s flight.

A screenshot indicating the wrong dates of Di Censo’s flight.

Di Censo posted about her experience on Facebook and received messages from other passengers who’d filed similar claims and claimed they received similarly puzzling denials referencing the wrong flights.

“How can somebody make the same mistake over and over again? It just seemed bizarre.”

 

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New rules came into effect on Dec. 15, 2019, mandating that large airlines — like Air Canada, WestJet or Air Transat — must pay between $400 and $1,000 for flights when passengers are delayed by three hours or more. Smaller airlines, like Swoop or Flair, are required to pay anywhere from $125 to $500.

In mid-July, regulators enacted the first phase of APPR, which focused primarily on remedying travel mishaps like tarmac delays, lost baggage and overbooking.

Ten passengers who spoke with Global News provided documents and correspondence with Air Canada that showed flights cancelled or delayed for staffing or scheduling issues, which are considered within an airline’s control and eligible for compensation under the new regulations. All the claims, however, were initially rejected by Air Canada claiming events outside of its control caused the flight disruptions.

“I mean, is it very clear to me that it’s an approach that they’re using to avoid having to pay these claims out,” Di Censo said.

Air Canada eventually reversed its decision about Di Censo’s husband, acknowledging that compensation was owed under the APPR. The airline also offered $1,000 each in compensation to Di Censo herself and her daughter but, once again, referenced flights that were unrelated to the APPR claims.

 




 

Di Censo estimates it took her around 50 hours’ worth of phone calls, emails and research for her family to eventually gain compensation and an apology. She worries others may be unfairly denied and not know it.

“This is sort of like a systemic strategy not to pay people,” she said. “I think they’re just trying to confuse [the public] so that we … just sort of back off.”

Air Canada did not respond to a detailed list of questions about Di Censo’s case or others reported by Global News, but said the airline’s policy is to “fully abide by the APPR.”

“We have put in place the necessary processes and procedures to ensure compliance and are dealing with customers directly,” Air Canada said in a statement. “We have no additional information to offer, but would point out for context that since the APPRs first took effect we have transported more than 25 million customers.”

In another case involving a flight to Halifax, Cheryl Yates was initially told that her claim for a Dec. 27 flight home from Boston was ineligible for compensation. Even though Yates had a flight notification reporting crew constraints as the reason for the cancellation, Air Canada claimed the disruption was due to events outside its control.

The airline reversed its decision and acknowledged compensation of $1,000 was owed under APPR after Yates asked air passenger advocate Gabor Lukacs to intervene. The airline also said it would reimburse Yates for $85 for out-of-pocket expenses she’d incurred due to the delay.

In another case, Jesse Saindon and his wife were flying back home to New Brunswick from a vacation in Hawaii that took them from Maui to Vancouver and then on to Montreal. On the final leg of their trip from Montreal to Fredericton, their Feb. 1 flight was cancelled due to “crew constraints.”

 




 

Air Canada denied his claim for compensation citing “maintenance”. As in several other cases viewed by Global News, the airline’s response does not reference the flight that was part of the complaint.

“You’d think that if it was safety concerns, it would be in the email notifications that we got that it was a mechanical issue,” Saindon told Global News. “It’s pretty frustrating.”

Saindon said he has his “suspicions” about whether Air Canada is intentionally mischaracterizing claims.

“If the crew constraint thing is happening to a lot of people, which it seems to be, they would have to pay out, right? Why would you say crew constraints and then come back with safety issues? Those two things aren’t the same.”

Lukacs said there are two issues at play: an airline that is allegedly avoiding paying out compensations and unclear legislation enacted by federal Transport Minister Marc Garneau.

“It’s exactly what we predicted. The new rules don’t protect passengers properly and airlines take advantage,” Lukacs told Global News, adding that he’s been warning the government about this for more than two years.

Lukacs noted that compensation for delays or cancellations can be denied for maintenance required for safety purposes, something that creates the potential for airlines to misrepresent minor repairs and routine upkeep as safety-related.

“In Europe, the airlines cannot avoid compensation for claiming maintenance,” he said. “This is where the Canadian legislation misses the mark.”

In correspondence viewed by Global News, Air Canada frequently claimed disruptions were out of its control, referencing flights that were delayed because of maintenance.

“The inconsistent reasons [for denying compensation] demonstrate in my mind that the airline is lying and that they are not being honest with passengers,” Lukacs said.

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Greg Cashin, who works for an oil and gas company in Calgary, attempted to claim $400 for a three-hour delay on a Jan. 26 Air Canada flight from Las Vegas to Calgary.

Although Air Canada’s assessment shows the flight was delayed due to “scheduling issues,” the airline denied his compensation request because the delay was “outside of our control.” However, a separate meal voucher issued for the same flight classified the reason for the delay as “controllable.”

“I’m a frequent traveller and I know what’s in their control and what’s outside of their control,” Cashin said. “This one was squarely within their control. It’s quite frustrating that they’re not being forthcoming about it.”

Nearly 10,000 air travel complaints since July 2019

Complaints related to the APPR are handled by the Canadian Transportation Agency (CTA).

The agency has said airlines are expected to document reasons for each flight delay and cancellation and must report information about flight disruptions to Transport Canada. Airlines caught breaking the new regulations could face up to $25,000 in fines for each violation.

CTA told Global News it has received nearly 10,000 air travel complaints since phase one of the APPR first came into effect on July 15, 2019. The agency said in an email:

“This is an unprecedented volume and we are currently evaluating the complaints, including whether they are all related to the APPR.”

 

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CTA said it cannot comment on how many of the claims are attributable to a specific issue because it is still in the process of reviewing the complaints.

“Where the CTA receives a complaint regarding a flight disruption, the airline would have to demonstrate which category the disruption fell into and how it met its obligations,” the agency said. “If it were discovered that an airline had misrepresented the cause of a delay to the CTA, this would be taken very seriously and appropriate enforcement action would be taken.”

 



 

Asked whether Transport Minister Marc Garneau was investigating concerns around passenger complaints and potential loopholes in the new legislation, his office said the responsibility to enforce the new rules falls onto the CTA.

“Once passengers submit a claim to the CTA, the Agency will review the facts and make a decision. The outcome could require the airline to compensate passengers and possibly pay a fine for non-compliance with the regulations,” said Garneau’s press secretary Livia Belcea in an email.

“Since being fully implemented on December 15, 2019, the CTA has rigorously applied APPRs, demonstrating that the process is working.”

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Trump claims Canada wants U.S. border reopened – CTV News

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OTTAWA —
U.S. President Donald Trump says that Canada wants to see the Canada-U.S. border reopened, but the federal government says it’ll make the decision based on public health advice. 

“We’re looking at the border with Canada. Canada would like it open, and you know we want to get back to normal business,” Trump said outside the White House on Friday.

“We’re going to be reopening the borders pretty soon,” Trump said, adding that he thinks the U.S. is “rounding the turn” in that country’s still massive COVID-19 outbreak. 

To date there have been more than six million cases of COVID-19 in the U.S. and more than 198,000 Americans have died. Over the course of the crisis there have been 141,565 confirmed COVID-19 cases in Canada, and more than 9,000 deaths. 

On Friday federal officials on both sides of the border announced that the Canada-U.S. border closure would be extended for at least another month, until Oct. 21.

The land border between the two countries has been closed to all non-essential travel since March 21, a move first made to limit the spread of the virus. 

The agreement, as it stands, exempts the flow of trade and commerce, as well as temporary foreign workers and vital health-care workers such as nurses who live and work on opposite sides of the border. 

Tourists and cross-border visits remain prohibited, though some restrictions on close family members have been eased allowing families to reunite, while others continue to call for further compassion for non-married couples and others who are still not permitted to cross. 

Pandemic tensions have flared in Canada over prospective American visitors, some of whom have used loopholes in the rules to enter the country. 

CTVNews.ca reached out to Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s office for comment, and spokesperson Chantal Gagnon pointed to Public Safety Minister Bill Blair’s comments earlier on Friday about the continuation of the border restrictions. 

“We will continue to base our decisions on the best public health advice available to keep Canadians safe,” Blair said in a tweet. 

In the latest episode of CTV News’ podcast Trend Line, Chair of Nanos Research Nik Nanos said that “people in Canada see what’s happening in the United States, and they have significant concerns about the risks to Canadians because of the pandemic.”

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Canada’s Public Health Agency president resigns amid rising coronavirus cases – Global News

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Tina Namiesniowski, the president of the Public Health Agency of Canada, has resigned leaving the department in charge of leading country’s response to the coronavirus without a leader, amid rising cases of the virus in some of Canada’s most populous provinces.

In a letter to staff released by Health Canada, Namiesniowski said she needed “to take a break” and “step aside so someone else can step up” to lead the public health agency tasked with coordinating Canada’s response to COVID-19. Namiesniowski was appointed to the job in May 2019.

Her resignation comes as caseloads of the virus have surged in Ontario, B.C. and Quebec and criticism about the federal government’s response to the virus in the early stages of the pandemic has mounted.

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A spokesperson for Health Canada said, “a replacement will be announced next week.”

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“This is a very difficult decision for me but I think it’s the right one,” Namiesniowski said. “You really need someone who will have the energy and the stamina to take the Agency and our response to the next level.

“Even though I might not have accomplished everything I would have liked to have done, I truly hope the foundation for change I’ve championed through our work on PHAC of the future will help serve as a road map moving forward.”

READ MORE: Canada adds 870 new cases, 6 deaths in last 24 hours

According to her LinkedIn profile, Namiesniowski worked as the executive vice-president of the Canada Border Services Agency and served as an assistant deputy minister at Agriculture Canada and Public Safety Canada.

“I will support the transition of a new President and then I am going to take some time to reconnect with my husband, kids and aging father and think about my own next steps,” she wrote. “I do want to remind everyone about how much of a toll this relentless pace can have on each of us and our loved ones so please try and look after yourselves and each other.”

PHAC, which Namiesniowski formally headed, faced criticism over a depleted national emergency stockpile of personal protective equipment (PPE) and reports that the Global Public Health Intelligence Network (GPHIN) – a federal pandemic early warning system — was shut down last year.

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Namiesniowski said in her email Friday, “it is hard to believe that close to ten months has elapsed since the Agency picked up the initial GPHIN signal on December 31st, 2019, about a cluster of cases in Wuhan of an unknown respiratory illness,” but did not mention the ongoing controversy around GPHIN.

Last week, Health Minister Patty Hajdu ordered a review over the warning system matter and reports that officials working on it were silenced, just months before the global outbreak of the coronavirus.

Hajdu said in a statement that a “full and expeditious independent review” has been requested.

“We were concerned to learn of reports that GPHIN analysts felt that they were not able to proceed with their important work, and that some scientists didn’t feel fully empowered. That’s why we have ordered a full and expeditious independent review of GPHIN,” said Hajdu’s office in a statement.

“This independent review is an important step in restoring GPHIN and ensuring that it can continue its valuable contributions to public health in Canada and around the world.”

© 2020 Global News, a division of Corus Entertainment Inc.

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Canada's premiers push for $28B top-up to annual federal health care spending – CBC.ca

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Canada’s premiers are demanding $28 billion in additional federal funding to cover their ballooning health care costs — a boost that would bring annual transfers to $70 billion.

The premiers have agreed unanimously to call on the Liberal government to address what they call an “absolutely critical” situation.

The premiers are meeting in Ottawa today to map out their demands ahead of next week’s throne speech.

Ontario Premier Doug Ford, Manitoba Premier Brian Pallister, Alberta Premier Jason Kenney and Quebec Premier François Legault — the incoming chair of the Council of the Federation — met in person, with other premiers joining virtually.

“It’s time for the federal government to do its fair share,” Legault said.

Ford said that as the demand for health care services has risen, support from the federal government has been decreasing.

“We’re in desperate need of your support,” he said.

The proposed increase would mean the federal government would cover 35 per cent of provinces’ health care costs, up from the current 22 per cent. Right now, the provinces spend $188 billion on health care, with the federal government covering $42 billion.

“We need the support from the federal government. We’re asking the fed government to support all Canadians. Be a true partner when it comes to health care,” Ford said.

Clockwise from top left: Quebec Premier François Legault, Ontario Premier Doug Ford, Alberta Premier Jason Kenney and Manitoba Premier Brian Pallister are meeting in person in Ottawa, with other premiers joining in virtually. (Evan Mitsui, Michael Wilson, William Wang, Gary Solilak/CBC)

Pallister said Canadians are living in fear because of the consequences of federal underfunding, such as longer waits for services and diagnoses.

“Right now, millions of Canadians are waiting for an appointment for a test, for consequential treatment, for surgery. Those delays are painful. A lump that isn’t diagnosed is not fun,” he said.

“Every single day right now in Canada, there are people in fear directly of the consequences of delay, and their families join in that fear, and their friends join in that fear.”

Pallister said it’s been a longstanding problem that has gone unaddressed. He said it’s time for the federal government to resume its “rightful role as a true funding partner” in order to shorten wait times and improve health care.

Ford and Legault met in Mississauga, Ont., last week to discuss economic recovery and health preparedness as the number of active COVID-19 cases rises in parts of the country.

“Premier Ford is in Ottawa to join his fellow Premiers ahead of the throne speech to press the federal government on critical priorities for the people of Ontario, including strengthening frontline health care, helping people and businesses get back on their feet, and moving shovel-ready infrastructure projects forward,” said Ford’s spokesperson Ivana Yelich in an email.

The federal government is providing $19 billion to the provinces to help ease the financial burden of the pandemic; about $10 billion of that sum is for health-related expenses.

But Ford and Legault said more long-term funding is needed to address critical health care issues that predate the pandemic, such as the increasing cost of new medical technologies and drugs and an aging population.

The federal government will transfer almost $42 billion to provinces and territories for health care this fiscal year under an agreement that mandates an an annual increase of three per cent.

Legault has said that the federal contribution is well below the 50 per cent share originally agreed upon decades ago.

Before the premiers’ meeting, Ford sat down with Ottawa Mayor Jim Watson and the city’s chief medical officer of health, Dr. Vera Etches.

The provincial government has imposed stricter rules on gatherings in the Ottawa, Toronto and Peel regions after their COVID-19 infections spiked.

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