Masse Speaks on Airline Passenger Bill of Rights

Mr. Brian Masse (Windsor West, NDP):
Mr. Speaker, at the end of January, I brought forth a call for the government to bring forward legislation. We have not yet seen that, but this motion at least creates a process, a potential element to deal with the situation.

One of the points the member made, which I think is important, is that the European Union as well as the United States are looking at different models as well. Would he expand again on the importance of Canada being left out if we do not do the same?

Mr. Brian Masse (Windsor West, NDP):
Mr. Speaker, it is a pleasure to speak to Motion No. 465 this evening. The NDP supports this motion.

About a month ago, I issued a challenge to the government to bring forward a passenger bill of rights. Motion No. 465 is very complementary to that. I would like to read the motion for those who are joining the debate tonight.

The motion is very open and also provides a mode of flexibility and has been crafted in a very good way. The member should be recognized for that because it provides an opportunity to have a good debate about airline passenger service in this country and the way in which problems and issues are dealt with and whether or not we are satisfied with the status quo.

Most people across the country are not satisfied. Most people recognize that, not only in the European Union but also in the United States.

The motion addresses a few of the concerns. I am concerned that members of the Conservative Party do not want to participate in this type of process. This process would be helpful and would also get to other airline issues that need to be debated in this country.

The motion states:

That the House call upon the government to bring forward an airline passenger bill of rights similar in scope and effect to legal instruments being either proposed or enacted by jurisdictions within Europe and the Unites States...

I will halt there for a second, because what the member has done, and this is what I was concerned with in regard to the government's presentation, is clearly outlined that other jurisdictions have enacted legislation, for example in the European Union. The Bloc member went through some of the details of that legislation which was to deal with very difficult problems that the EU had and the EU felt that it had to enshrine something.

The member also recognizes the fact that the United States is going through a process. There is a bill in the house and a bill in the senate in the United States with respect to a passenger bill of rights. There has been a significant change in the U.S. airline industry and it has rocked the nation in many respects. There are going to be continued issues around passengers and their ability to get value because there is going to be another potential merger. There has been a lot of change, a lot of bankruptcies and many other issues. We have seen all too often footage not just in terms of weather delays but also cancellations related to aircraft being grounded and airlines that have gone bankrupt. A lot of travelling Americans and Canadians have been left high and dry.

These are very important issues. The member has acknowledged that those are the ones to be looked at.

When we look at this issue we cannot put our heads in the sand and say that the European Union has not solved everything and the United States has not quite done it yet so we should just forget about it and wait and see what happens.

There is an opportunity in the House to actually engage in this. Airline travel involves everything. We travel on personal visits with our families and our friends but airline travel is also very important for business and economic development across the country, especially as we are looking at competing in larger markets.

These issues are very important. When a person purchases a ticket, it should come with some basic rights. That is what we are really getting at.

The motion continues:
...for the purpose of protecting passenger interests in a consistent and rules-based way...

I want to stop there. When we talk to airline passengers and when we talk to people who work in the industry itself, the rules based approach is very important. People do not understand all these aspects. There are hidden charges. I know the industry is very concerned with a number of different fees that have been added on by the government. One example is the airline security tax. There have also been increased costs for landing fees. Also Nav Canada has been allowed to accumulate over a $60 million surplus. All these costs have to be passed on to the passenger.

There is concern from the industry that there has not been a real review of those types of things and those costs get passed on to the consumer. Similarly, there has to be a rules based approach when it comes to expectations when a person buys a ticket.

Bill C-11 was mentioned, but the fact of the matter is even when there is legislation the government has failed to live up to some of the principles of the legislation. In particular on Bill C-11 there was supposed to be consultation with different groups of Canadians about how to bring in a ticket pricing element that was fair and transparent.

CBC's Marketplace had very good program that outlined how some ticket prices have increased 50% because of fuel charges. People see a flight advertised at a certain price, but when they go to purchase their ticket, they are in for a big shock. We should have a rules based approach on issues like that so consumers know when an advertised price includes that charge, when it does not and all the airlines would have to follow that.

Having that element specifically mentioned in the motion gives some good ground to create fairness. This would create expectations not only with regard to when passengers should arrive, but what they should do to prepare themselves for air travel and what they should do in their conduct in air travel. Also, there would be an understanding of the company's obligations so that passengers can meet those types of conditions.

I have talked to representatives of some of the companies. They have expressed a bit of concern around issues related to checking in and so forth. For example, if there are not enough security officers to screen people, there is a problem. If people arrive too late, there is a problem.

In this debate, we can look at that context. We can look at the issue of whether the security charge that has been applied and continued by the government is going to be one that has value in terms of making sure that air travel is safe, but also making sure that we are going to reduce wait times and meet a mandate within a passenger bill of rights. Those issues can now come to the forefront.

The end of the motion is important as well. It talks about:
...adequate compensation being offered by the airline industry to airline passengers who experience inconveniences such as flight interruptions, delays, cancellations, issues with checked baggage and other inconveniences incurred while travelling on commercial passenger airline services originating from anywhere in Canada.

It refers to “such as”, and therefore, it does not have to be exclusively those items. The items can be looked at to determine whether they are appropriate or not, but at least it opens up that opportunity.

It is important to note that some airlines are actually moving on some of these items right now but they are charging extra fees for them. One airline has introduced a new service where for $25 or $35 passengers rise up a level and are able to bump other passengers. There are also emails and other services with regard to food and hotel accommodation.

Some of those things should be included in the price of the ticket right now but they are going to offer those services, the costs of which are going to be passed on to the customer. It is going to create another class of individuals who will be able to afford that $25 or $35, depending upon the fee, who will then purchase better tickets than other people who did not want to put that money on the table or could not afford to put out that money. That is important, because if we do not set some minimum standards and expectations with regard to airline passenger travel, then the companies are probably going to take advantage of customers. That is not right.

I only have a couple of minutes left, but I want to touch on a couple of issues. The issue of the Cuba to Montreal flight was mentioned. It is really important to acknowledge that those people were stuck on a plane for over 10 hours without the proper hygiene, nourishment or supports. They were having to sit in those seats for a long period of time. The basic health and sanitation systems had failed on the plane, and it took a 911 call to get some action.

That is enough to say if this extreme situation is going to happen in our country, in our nation's capital, there needs to be a change. We cannot simply leave things to the courts and other types of operations where there are no expectations or rules. We need to establish a bill of rights.

I will conclude by pointing out that we are going to once again have an opportunity to move forward on this or we will fall behind and watch our competition move ahead. It is important to point out that we will lose out on this.

In my area, many people choose to fly from Detroit, Michigan as opposed to going from Windsor on another air carrier to Toronto. That is because of the extra rights they are granted. The airlines and groups that are involved want to develop something right now. They want to clear the air. This motion is a start.