Written by Eric Epp
Justice delayed is justice denied. This maxim may be all too familiar for thousands of travelers who have filed complaints with the Canadian Transportation Agency (CTA).
The CTA is the administrative body tasked with adjudicating complaints surrounding air travel in Canada between airlines and travelers, in addition to issuing licenses for air, rail, and marine transportation companies. Most consumer complaints surround disputes over travel delays, canceled flights, and lost baggage. In theory, the CTA is to be a quicker, more efficient forum to achieve redress than the superior courts.
Passenger Rights and Protections
Travelers in Canada are protected by the Air Passenger Protection Regulations (APPR) which came into effect in 2019. The APPR protects travelers in several ways but pertinent to average travelers are the rights regarding canceled/delayed flights and lost/damaged baggage. Depending on whether a particular situation is in or out of an airline’s control, travelers may be entitled to having their itinerary rebooked on another airline, a refund, or additional compensation. Travelers have one year from the original incident to request compensation from an airline and if this fails to resolve the complaint, they may file a complaint with the CTA.
The Growing Complaint Backlog
In practice, these APPR rights have plagued the CTA with a backlog of complaints, which appears to have only grown over time. While complaints are resolved with relative quickness once a file has been reviewed, it is the wait before the initial review that creates the backlog. According to the CTA, current wait times before a file is reviewed will be over 18 months. A search of every public decision issued by the CTA from 2022 to the present reveals that the average time between initial complaint and a final decision was likely closer to two years. This backlog does not begin to touch the chaos of summer and winter holidays of 2022 as the vast majority of these complaints were from 2019 through 2021. By all accounts the backlog should only get worse as these new complaints are added.
Access to Justice Concerns
Delay in delivering justice is a problem. Theoretically, a reason the legislature delegates authority to an administrative body is its ability to deliver decisions swiftly in a simplified manner as opposed to the traditional court system. Contrarily, some air travelers have reached the point where they have forgone the CTA complaint process in favour of small claims court, where proceedings are more complicated but faster. This frustrates the purpose of the CTA complaint system and spends justice system resources in a place where adjudication power has already been delegated elsewhere.
Of much greater concern to the average traveler is the length of time between the original incident and potential compensation. Applicants are often seeking compensation of as much as $1,000 if not more. For most Canadians, this is an incredible amount of money to be out of for two years. Even a favourable decision may seem stilted after such a wait. With the backlog only growing, it seems additional resources or creative solutions will be required to rectify this access to justice issue.
 Air Passenger Protection Regulations, SOR/2019-150, s. 19.
 Ibid at s. 19(3).
 The Canadian Press, “CTA says total air travel complaints up last year on increased backlog” (23 June 2022), online: CP24 <https://www.cp24.com/news/cta-says-total-air-travel-complaints-up-last-year-on-increased-backlog-1.5960387> [https://perma.cc/T55J-H6ME]; Jill Macyshon and Tom Yun, “Backlog of airline complaints balloons by 6,395 since December travel chaos: Canadian Transportation Agency” (31 January 2023), online: CTV News <https://www.ctvnews.ca/canada/backlog-of-airline-complaints-balloons-by-6-395-since-december-travel-chaos-canadian-transportation-agency-1.6254745> [https://perma.cc/UB9F-Y4CD].
 “How adjudication works” (last modified 26 August 2016), online: Canadian Transportation Agency <https://otc-cta.gc.ca/eng/how-adjudication-works>.
 “Overview and FAQs: Disputes related to federal transportation” (last modified 13 September 2016), online: Canadian Transportation Agency <https://otc-cta.gc.ca/eng/overview-and-faqs-disputes-related-federal-transportation>
 See generally: “Browse decisions and determinations” (last visited 15 February 2023), online: Canadian Transportation Agency <https://otc-cta.gc.ca/eng/decisions?f%5B0%5D=field_mode%3A1345&f%5B1%5D=field_ruling_type%3A1298>.
 Canada (Minister of Citizenship and Immigration) v Vavilov, 2019 SCC 65at para 29.
 Darren Major, “Fed up with federal agency delays, air passengers turn to courts for compensation instead”, CBC (29 December 2022), online: <https://www.cbc.ca/news/politics/canadian-transportation-agency-backlog-complaints-court-1.6686052> [https://perma.cc/V5FT-JLB3].
The views and opinions expressed in the blogs are the views of their authors, and do not represent the views of the Faculty of Law, or the University of Manitoba. Academic Members of the University of Manitoba are entitled to academic freedom in the context of a respectful working and learning environment.