MARCH 28, 2005

ACTA seeks regulations with teeth against airlines' misleading advertising practices

A Canada-wide effort gets under way


In light of the amendments to the Canada Transportation Act tabled March 24 in the House of Commons by Transport Minister Jean Lapierre, the Association of Canadian Travel Agencies (ACTA) is embarking on a Canada-wide effort to better inform consumers and politicians as to the deceptive advertising of travel service prices by the airlines.

The proposed legislative amendments introduced last week would give the Canadian Transportation Agency (CTA) the authority to make and enforce regulations to require that the advertised airfares include all costs to the airline for providing that air service. «The catch», said Marc-André Charlebois, President and CEO of ACTA, «is that the CTA would be granted this authority not by virtue of the Act itself but on the recommendation of the Minister of Transport. ACTA wants to ensure that the Minister does, in fact, make such recommendation, and as soon as the amendments are implemented.» Despite longstanding discussions about this issue, recent research reveals that airlines still advertise travel services way below their real price.

«We have been warning Canadian consumers as well as the Canadian government for many years about this situation and we are calling on the Canadian government to introduce Canada-wide standards that would apply throughout the travel industry to correct the current situation, » added Marc-André Charlebois.

Charlebois is particularly worried about recent research by Options consommateurs, a Quebec-based consumer protection group, that clearly indicates how real prices can exceed airline-advertised prices by margins of up to 90% on such widely-traveled destinations as Montreal, Toronto, Vancouver, Winnipeg, Edmonton, Halifax, St. John’s, as well as international destinations such as New York and Florida.

The difference comes from hidden charges and fees not included in the prices advertised by airlines, such as airport improvement or NavCanada fees, fuel, insurance and security charges.

«This is unfair for the consumer as well as for travel agents who comply with the different provincial laws that apply to the travel industry by advertising the real price of travel services» Charlebois added.

ACTA members will inform customers

Starting next week, all 3 000 ACTA travel agency members will provide information to their customers on this issue.

ACTA itself will conduct a Canada-wide effort to reach Federal members of parliament, trade and consumer associations and the media.

A call for Federal legislation

ACTA had been calling for Federal legislation to define Canada-wide standards to correct the current situation. «The amendments introduced by Minister Lapierre provide the necessary guidance for the introduction of regulations that would totally remedy the problem», argued Charlebois, «but the adoption of such will be left entirely at the whim of the Transport Minister and that isn't good enough.» ACTA’s proposal to the Federal government is the following:

  • Fares advertised by airlines should represent the total cost of services provided by the carrier, that is, the amount the customer will be required to pay for travel between departure point and destination, including all fees, levies, services charges and other added charges considered as part and parcel of the carrier’s costs.
  • The aforementioned fees and surcharges may be listed in the advertising copy to provide additional and helpful information to consumers.
  • Applicable sales taxes shall also be included in the total cost and an explicit statement to that effect shall be included in the body of the ad.
  • Furthermore, mandatory round-trip tickets should be advertised as such and not as one-way fares.

Other aspects of the amendments to the Canada Transportation Act, including a conspicuous oversight regarding consumer protection against travel supplier failure, will be the subject of further comments and recommendations by ACTA in the days and weeks ahead.

About ACTA

ACTA is the national trade association representing the interests of 3 000 small, medium and large travel agencies that employ 20 000 retail travel professionals in communities across Canada.