Almost half of all flight delays in 2022 were airlines’ responsibility, government data suggests | CBC News

Almost half of all flight delays in 2022 were airlines’ responsibility, government data suggests | CBC News


Nearly half of all flight delays in 2022 were deemed the responsibility of an airline, according to new numbers from Transport Canada.

Just over 87,500 delays out of 199,000 were considered to be within an airline’s control

Darren Major · CBC News


Passengers look at an information board at the an airport departures terminal. Many flights are indicated as dealyed.

Out of nearly 199,000 flight delays that occurred last year, just over 87,500 — or 44 per cent — were within an airline’s control and were not considered safety issues. (Graham Hughes/The Canadian Press)

Nearly half of all flight delays in 2022 were deemed the responsibility of an airline, according to new numbers from Transport Canada.

Out of nearly 199,000 delays that occurred last year, just over 87,500 — or 44 per cent — were considered to be within an airline’s control and were not due to a safety issue.

Passengers still remember the chaotic travel season caused by widespread flight delays and cancellations in the summer and December of 2022. The Canadian Transportation Agency (CTA) issued hundreds of fines to Canada’s major airlines as a result.

Rules that came into force in 2019 — often referred to as the air passenger bill of rights —  require airlines to compensate passengers for delays or cancellations that are within their control.

But as travel began to return to pre-pandemic levels last summer, passengers began accusing airlines of skirting those rules and denying them the compensation they’re owed.

As a result, the CTA — which is responsible for adjudicating complaints between airlines and passengers — has been grappling with a backlog of passenger complaints which now numbers 57,000.

This past spring, the government proposed changes to the air passenger bill of rights. The changes are currently being reviewed by the CTA and aren’t expected to come into effect until 2024.

The government is looking to close a loophole in the current rules that airlines have used to deny customers compensation for flight disruptions required for safety purposes.

The proposed changes would require airlines to automatically compensate passengers unless the airline can prove that  “exceptional circumstances” caused a flight disruption.

The CTA is proposing that those circumstances include weather concerns, airport operational issues and “hidden manufacturing defects” on an airplane. Technical problems that are part of “normal airline operations” would not be considered part of those exceptional circumstances.

Airlines say new rules could put safety at risk

Airlines and other industry players are arguing the changes could put passenger safety at risk.

“We want our pilots to be entirely free from any financial consideration when they take a safety-related decision,” WestJet CEO Alexis von Hoensbroech told the Canadian Press in September.

“Regulation should never be punitive for safety decisions.”

WestJet’s head of external affairs Andy Gibbons told CBC News that Transport Canada’s numbers prove that airlines don’t use safety as a loophole to deny passengers compensation.

“While we will always prioritize the safety of everyone onboard our aircraft, penalizing safety is a policy proposal that should be rejected by government,” Gibbons said in a media statement. He also argued that airlines have stabilized their operations since the pandemic and have had fewer problems in 2023.

Consumer advocates question the claim that the proposed rules would put safety at risk.

Sylvie De Bellefeuille, a lawyer with the advocacy group Option consommateurs, said airlines have too often relied on safety as an excuse to deny compensation. She pointed to examples of airlines claiming staffing shortages were a safety concern — something the CTA eventually ruled was not a reason airlines could deny compensation.

“In the eyes of passengers, anything can seem like a safety issue. So the problem is that it was interpreted too broadly,” she said.

De Bellefeuille said the proposed changes are similar to the rules in the European Union.

“Safety did not seem to be an issue in Europe. So this argument they’ve put forward is not new. I’ve heard it before and it doesn’t make sense to me,” she said.

Ian Jack, a spokesperson for the non-profit Canadian Automobile Association travel agency, echoed De Bellefeuille’s point. He said that while safety shouldn’t be compromised, Canada has strong air safety regulations.

“I think that the carriers are perhaps trying to muddy the waters a little bit between whether or not there’s good safety regulation in this country … versus whether there are good rules to protect passengers so that they’re not out of pocket when things go wrong,” he said. “We shouldn’t confuse the two things.”

A man with long silver hair and a beard speaks to reporters who are not pictured here.

A spokesperson for Minister of Transport Pablo Rodriguez said new air passenger protection rules won’t affect air travel safety. (Darren Calabrese/The Canadian Press)

Jack’s argument was echoed by a spokesperson for federal Transport Minister Pablo Rodriguez.

“We can have both a solid air passenger rights regime and safe air travel,” the spokesperson said in an email.

Transport Canada’s numbers show that a sizable chunk of flight delays — more than 28,000 — were caused by safety issues. But that number is less than a third of the 87,000 delays that were deemed to be the airlines’ responsibility.

Airlines have lobbied the government to compel other players, such as airports and the Canadian Air Transport Security Authority, to shoulder more of the cost of passenger compensation.

“When we are short-staffed, then we are being held accountable,” von Hoensbroech told CBC News Network’s Power & Politics in an interview last month.

“If the very same thing happens because, for example, Navigation Canada … is short-staffed, then it’s treated like an act of God.”

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Another 43,000 delays in 2022 were caused by air traffic control and other operational issues. 

Nav Canada, the corporation that oversees Canada’s air traffic controllers, has been dealing with a worker shortage that has caused some delays this past summer.

But Nav Canada said only a “small portion” of the 43,000 delays from 2022 could be attributed to air traffic control issues because the category includes a number of other factors, such as airport operations.

The company also said it is in the process of training hundreds more employees to fill vacancies.

“We currently have more than 400 employees in training and more than 600 individuals will enter our training programs in the following two years,” a Nav Canada spokesperson said in an email.

“It is a company-wide priority to make every effort to support the anticipated increased traffic during busy travel seasons and we are committed to working with our employees and unions on this front.”

A group of passengers waits in line at the Ottawa International Airport.

Travellers line up at the Ottawa International Airport as airlines cancel or delay flights during a major storm in Ottawa on Friday, Dec. 23, 2022. (Justin Tang/The Canadian Press)

Rodriguez’s spokesperson said a proposed bill, C-52, would ensure “better accountability, transparency, and cooperation between partners across the aviation sector.” That legislation is currently before the House of Commons but has only made it past the first reading.

Both De Bellefeuille and Jack said they are open to the idea of more shared responsibility within the air travel industry. But they both argued it shouldn’t be left up to the passengers to figure out who should compensate them.

“When it comes to passengers, the contract they have is with the airline company, so the burden should not be on the passenger to find out who’s responsible,” De Bellefeuille said.

“If something goes wrong with a purchase you make in a store, the fact that it might be the fault of the trucking company, it might be the fault of the manufacturing plant — I don’t think that matters to you. You hold the retailer responsible,” Jack said.


Darren Major is a senior writer for CBC’s Parliamentary Bureau. He can be reached via email at

    With files from the Canadian Press


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