Last October’s election of a Liberal-majority federal government brought significant changes to Parliament Hill: New MPs and cabinet ministers now have new mandates to explore the issues affecting Canadians today. One such member is Marc Garneau. As Minister of Transport, his mandate includes everything from port security to motor vehicle safety to commercial airline standards.
AMA—as well as CAA National—has long advocated for the improvement of both the in-airport and on-plane experience for air travellers in Canada. CAA recently queried Minister Garneau about efforts to make air travel more efficient and affordable.*
CAA: You recently spoke about the need to improve the experience for air passengers. What areas do you intend to focus on?
MARC GARNEAU: We want the experience for the air traveller to be as enjoyable as possible. Today, there is the possibility to not only get your boarding pass at home, but you can even get your baggage tags online and print them out before you go to the airport. We’re trying to simplify the process. There remains one additional step that you have to go through and that is, of course, security. There’s a very good reason for that, we want to ensure that when passengers get on at the airport that they have been screened and that there’s nothing to be concerned about in terms of danger from passengers or products that could be in their baggage.
CAA: Going through airport security screenings is a necessity, but are there ways the process could be made more efficient for travellers
MG: There’s an objective to try to do it as fast as possible but at the same time to do it properly. As you know we have an organization called CATSA [the Canadian Air Transport Security Authority] that does the screening at the airport. I want to say that CATSA, in terms of its mandate, ensuring security, it does a very good job. The only issue here is, is it possible for us to do it more quickly. There are comparisons to other airports in the world where people are saying that the process is faster. One of the things that I’ll be looking at is to see whether we can improve the times, in other words how long it takes to get through security without cutting any corners.
CAA: Are there any other concerns about CATSA?
MG: We’re looking at financing as well. In the recent Canada Transportation Act Review report, Mr. David Emerson looked at a whole range of transportation-related issues. This was started by the previous government, but the report, I tabled it in February of this year. It has 60 recommendations covering all areas of transportation, including air transportation. One of the things the report recommends is that we look at the financing of CATSA and its current way of doing things with the hope of trying to speed up the process.
CAA: Canadian air travel charges, excluding airfare, are higher than the international average, as are our security wait times. Yet passengers have little recourse. Does that concern you?
MG: Those additional charges that are incurred after paying for the actual flight itself, some of them have to do with airport improvement fees, some of them have to do with fuel surcharges. Some of them have to do with air traffic security charges, which is related to CATSA’s work, and sometimes there are other fees. All that adds quite a bit of cost to each ticket. Those charges in some cases are very justified, but we do have to look at them, taking into consideration that in some cases it may make Canada a little bit less competitive versus other countries.
The Canada Transportation Act Review report recognizes the need for clearly defined air passenger rights in this country. The government’s response is expected to be presented later this fall. AMA continues to advocate for air passenger rights and stronger government protection in the future.
*This conversation has been edited for clarity and brevity.