After a disappointing holiday travel season for many, Canadians are reflecting on why it happened, who to blame and what solutions are needed to avoid future calamities.
Survey results released Wednesday (Jan. 18) from Angus Reid Institute found that of 1,611 respondents asked, 70 per cent blame the weather while 68 per cent took aim at the airlines and rail companies.
The federal government was less in the hot seat, with 33 per cent saying the blame should rest with them. Thirty per cent said that travellers put themselves in the situation.
The holiday travel season disappointed many, with six per cent of Canadians saying they were personally affected by the chaos. Those affected were more likely to blame Transport Canada for failing to plan for the holiday surge in travel compared to those who opted out of travelling altogether.
For some, December’s halt in flights – which lasted more than a week for some travellers – is a more political question. Fifty-five per cent of those who voted Conservative in the 2021 federal election believe Transport Canada failed Canadians. For non-Conservative voters, while this notion wasn’t as significant, roughly 22 to 34 per cent agreed.
Sixty-one per cent said they feel major airlines and rail companies do not care about their customers.
For those leading the airlines involved, the chaos was just as rife.
“In my two years at WestJet, this was the most significant weather-induced disruption that I have experienced,” WestJet’s vice president of flight operations Scott Wilson said in the subsequent survey analysis.
WestJet had to cancel 1,600 flights from Dec. 16 to Jan. 8, the company told the House of Commons committee. Air Canada rebooked 107,000 customers over the holidays and Sunwing received 7,000 complains from affected customers.
So what did survey respondents say they want to change?
After a summer travel season where Canadian airlines and airports were already some of the worst in the world at getting passengers to their destinations on time, the pressure for improvement is growing.
According to the survey, 78 per cent of respondents said they believe more government regulation is needed to protect travel customers in the event of cancellations. While airlines must compensate travellers for cancellations and delays, there are advocates calling for the federal government to require airlines automatically compensate passengers for disrupted flights, instead of the current system which requires passengers to make a claim.
Currently the Canadian Transportation Agency can fine airlines up to $25,000 per passenger if found to violate air passenger protection rights. In the past five years, only one carrier was fined by the CTA for inadequate compensation to passengers. If CTA fines increase, a concern is that airline ticket prices could increase as a way to curb the company’s bottom line.
Canadians are divided on whether or not CTA should issue the fines even if it means increased prices for consumers, with 44 per cent in favour.
Some of these challenges has appeared to have led 78 per cent of survey respondents wanting to see more airline competition.