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After travel chaos, WestJet exec opposed to auto-compensation


The vice-president of external affairs for WestJet says the airline is opposed to wall-to-wall federal rules around automatic compensation for passengers in the event of flight delays, while the federal government says it’s committed to strengthening passenger rights regulations.


“We don’t think bulk automatic policies are the way to go,” Andrew Gibbons told CTV’s Question Period host Vassy Kapelos, in an interview airing Sunday. “We do like to have an individual relationship with our guests.”


Gibbons says he’s also hoping to see changes to federal regulations, but that he hopes those updates will include provisions to share accountability for flight delays and cancellations across the industry, instead of having airlines alone take the brunt of the responsibility.


Gibbons was one of several air travel officials who testified before the House transport committee for five hours’ worth of hearings Thursday. Representatives from other airlines and airports, as well as Transport Minister Omar Alghabra, also testified.


Alghabra said he’s committed to strengthening the current regulations — adopted in 2019 and updated as recently as last September — to prevent situations like the chaos that plagued Canadian travellers over the summer and the winter holidays from happening again.


Meanwhile, the NDP want to see changes include automatic compensation for passengers when their flights are delayed.


WestJet cancelled more than 1,600 flights between Dec. 16, 2022 and Jan. 8, 2023, and Gibbons said the airline was “responsible with [its] operational decisions” in cancelling flights proactively instead of having would-be passengers waiting at airport gates or on tarmacs. He, along with the other airline officials who testified Thursday, blamed the delays and cancellations largely on weather conditions.


Gibbons said while he’s opposed to the general idea of blanket regulations such as automatic compensation, “it depends on the entire package” of federal government rules, namely that the responsibility for interruptions is not solely on the backs of airlines.


“One of the gaps is in the regulatory environment, which only has accountability provisions and rules for airlines,” he said. “And if you accept the premise that tarmac delays, or delays or cancels of any kind, can have more than the authorship of an airline, then we also need a regulatory environment that reflects that, and that’s what we’re seeking from the minister.”


Alghabra has not said how soon travellers and the air travel industry can expect changes to the current regulations, only that findings from the transport committee hearings will be incorporated into a broader review already underway. In the meantime, the committee is still set to hear from Via Rail following delays for travellers by train over the holidays, as well as passengers and passenger advocacy groups.


With files from CTVNews.ca’s Senior Digital Parliamentary Reporter Rachel Aiello

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