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Federal strike could push air passenger complaints processing beyond 18 months

Backlog of complaints now sits at nearly 45,000
Passengers arrive at Pearson Airport in Mississauga, Ont. on Tuesday, March 14, 2023. The strike action by federal civil servants could draw out the wait time for air passenger complaints even further. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Chris Young

The strike by federal civil servants could mean passengers who filed complaints with the country's airline regulator could face even longer processing times.

A backlog of complaints on issues ranging from lost luggage to compensation for cancelled flights now sits at nearly 45,000, with a processing time of 18 months per case on average, according to the Canadian Transportation Agency.

That's more than triple the tally from a year ago after travel chaos erupted during the summer and winter holidays due to soaring demand, labour shortages and poor weather.

Employees at the regulator are among the 155,000-plus members of the Public Service Alliance of Canada that launched a strike Wednesday.

The agency said in an online post that its "dispute resolution activities may be subject to delays."

Regulatory activities such as the issuing of air licences as well as rulings on air, rail and marine issues will continue, "with possible delays," the regulator said.

Gabor Lukacs, president of the Air Passenger Rights advocacy group, said the stack of complaints is now so high that even a strike of several weeks would barely register for most Canadians awaiting a case resolution.

"On top of those 18 months, we'd have two more weeks. I mean, it's a farce," Lukacs said.

"It is one office that you could easily shut down for a month and you wouldn't notice the difference."

The Canadian Transportation Agency did not respond to a request for comment Friday. The website notes that "information provision activities will likely be delayed," which includes general inquiries.

Last month, Transport Minister Omar Alghabra pledged $75.9 million over three years to chip away at the complaints backlog by hiring 200 more employees.

He also promised to tighten passenger rights rules, following up on the January pledge with legislation tabled in the House of Commons on Thursday.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published April 21, 2023.

Christopher Reynolds, The Canadian Press

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