Senate roadblock stalls airline ad changes


OTTAWA – Transport Canada has yet to launch consultations into new rules forcing airlines to advertise the full price of airfares eight months after a law was passed requiring it to do so, raising concerns the popular initiative could be killed.

long-standing practice of airlines advertising one price for a ticket, then tacking on taxes, fees and surcharges when the purchase is made, looked like it was coming to an end last spring, when the House of Commons passed a bill requiring airlines to include all the extras in ads.

But, the Senate added a roadblock to the so-called “all-in” advertising provision, postponing it until industry and government had the time to figure out how to avoid any unintended consequences on airlines’ competitiveness.

Liberal Senator Dennis Dawson, a former lobbyist for WestJet Airlines, proposed the implementation delay after airline executives appeared before the Senate. They argued the new advertising rules were unfair.

Transport Canada spokesman Patrick Charette said despite the delay in the launch of the consultation process, Ottawa remains committed to consumer protection provisions with respect to airline advertising.

“Right now, we’re monitoring the developments in this area. . . . We’re still at the same stage, we’re considering next steps.”

Michael Janigan, executive director of the Public Interest Advocacy Centre and founding member of the Travel Protection Initiative, says the delay isn’t a good sign.

“My impression is Transport Canada was never interested in implementing this, and has no interest in consumer protection. I can’t think of another instance where, in effect, you’d want to encourage misleading behaviour on the grounds that it’s good for business.”

The airline industry maintains it’s unfair to require all-in airfare advertising because most provinces, which regulate how travel agents advertise, require no such provision of travel agencies; only Ontario and Quebec require agencies to include all fees and surcharges in their advertised prices.

And while foreign carriers would be forced to advertise the full price of airfares in Canadian media outlets, there is no way to regulate their websites, where Canadian consumers can shop.

“Our position has been, and remains, that we would be pleased to comply with new regulations provided they are applied equally to all airlines selling seats in Canada, both domestic and foreign, in order to ensure there is a level playing field for all carriers with respect to advertising,” said Peter Fitzpatrick, spokesman for Air Canada.

Michael Pepper, president of the Travel Industry Council of Ontario, said he’s dismayed about the stalemate. Transport Canada officials assured him last summer that the consultation process would begin by last fall.

“Nothing’s happened, and the . . . advertising is still happening today.”

Pepper added Canada is offside with the United States and Europe, which require full disclosure in airfare advertising.

The B.C. Automobile Association last month introduced its own “what you see is what you pay” policy after fielding complaints from its members and customers.

BCAA vice-president Daniel Mirkovic said the airlines should take a cue from their own customers. “Listen to your customers. That’s what we’re doing. They were so frustrated by this, this was an easy fix for us.”

Mirkovic added it’s a calculated risk for the association, but said he has faith in consumers. “We’re going to appear to be much higher than airlines that are advertising incorrectly, but today’s travel customers are really savvy. They know there are extra fees.”