Air Canada has a policy allowing employees to classify flight cancellations caused by staff shortages as a "safety" problem.
The policy excludes travelers from being able to access compensation under federal regulations.
The Canadian Transportation Agency said treating staff shortages as a safety issue violates federal rules.
Air Canada is refusing to compensate passengers for cancellations thanks to a policy it introduced during COVID-19 that allows the airline to call staff shortages a safety problem, The Canadian Press reported.
Amidst a summer of travel chaos plagued with flight delays and lost luggage, the practice is another complication for weary travelers, according to The Canadian Press, which reported that passenger Ryan Farrell's flight from Yellowknife to Calgary was canceled due to what the airline labeled "crew constraints."
Farrell made a compensation request, but the request was denied based on the staff shortage, the outlet reported.
A customer relations email to Farrell obtained by The Canadian Press said, "since your Air Canada flight was delayed/canceled due to crew constraints resulting from the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on our operations, the compensation you are requesting does not apply because the delay/cancellation was caused by a safety-related issue."
Air Canada's response to Farrell is part of a company-wide policy that instructs employees to classify flight cancellations caused by staff shortages as a "safety" problem. Doing so excludes travelers from being able to access compensation under federal regulations, according to the company's policy.
In Canada, the Air Passenger Protection Regulations require airlines to pay up $1,000 in compensation for cancellations or significant delays that are within the carrier's control when the notification comes 14 days or less before departure. Airlines do not have to provide any payment if the change was required for safety purposes.
In an email to The Canadian Press, the Canadian Transportation Agency said treating staff shortages as a safety issue violates federal rules.
"If a crew shortage is due to the actions or inactions of the carrier, the disruption will be considered within the carrier's control for the purposes of the Air Passenger Protection Regulations. Therefore, a disruption caused by a crew shortage should not be considered 'required for safety purposes' when it is the carrier who caused the safety issue as a result of its own actions," the agency said in an email to the news outlet.
Gabor Lukacs, president of the Air Passenger Rights advocacy group, told the news organization that Canada's largest airline is unlawfully exploiting the federal regulation to avoid paying compensation and called on the transport regulator for stronger enforcement.
In the US, there are no federal laws requiring airlines to provide passengers with money or other compensation when their flights are delayed, according to the US Department of Transportation.
The Canadian Press reported Air Canada disagreed, stating, "Air Canada follows all public health directives as part of its safety culture, and during the Omicron wave last winter that affected some crew availability, we revised our policy to better assist customers in their travels with enhanced levels of customer care for flight cancellations related to crew contending with COVID."
Air Canada and the Canadian Transportation Agency did not immediately respond to Insider's request for comment.
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