Advocates say 'contact airline first' clause deprives passengers of compensation

Stacked against the traveller

An advocacy group is calling on the country's transportation regulator to take a stand against airlines that prevent passengers from seeking legal advice until their compensation claims have already been rejected.

AirHelp, a passenger rights company based in Berlin, says so-called "contact airline first" clauses protect carriers' interests at the expense of their customers, depriving travellers of key information when they seek compensation for delayed flights or damaged luggage.

An online YouGov survey from last year that included 10,400 participants from nine countries found that up to two-thirds of Canadian claimants give up their claim after an initial rejection by the airline.

A 2019 AirHelp study based on hundreds of thousands of the company's claims also found that airlines wrongfully reject more than 50 per cent of valid claims at first.

Air Canada customer Steve Pereira hopes to force legal clarity on the issue with a case now before the Canadian Transportation Agency, though a backlog of thousands of complaints could delay the outcome.

Last year the federal government rolled out a new passenger rights charter, which airlines have challenged in court for going too far on mandatory compensation, while consumer advocates argue the rules grant carriers too many exemptions.

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