Minister of Transport Omar Alghabra appears as a witness at the Public Order Emergency Commission in Ottawa on Wednesday, November 23, 2022. Transport Minister Omar Alghabra has accepted a request from fellow members of Parliament to appear before a committee that is seeking answers about what led to a chaotic holiday travel season. THE CANADIAN PRESS/ Patrick Doyle

Minister of Transport Omar Alghabra appears as a witness at the Public Order Emergency Commission in Ottawa on Wednesday, November 23, 2022. Transport Minister Omar Alghabra has accepted a request from fellow members of Parliament to appear before a committee that is seeking answers about what led to a chaotic holiday travel season. THE CANADIAN PRESS/ Patrick Doyle

Transport minister will meet with committee investigating holiday travel woes

Widespread travel disruptions under the microscope included Sunwing and Via Rail

Transport Minister Omar Alghabra has accepted a request from fellow members of Parliament to appear before a committee that is seeking answers about what led to a chaotic holiday travel season.

Thousands of Canadians had their flights cancelled or delayed due to poor weather, while hundreds of others were left stranded in Mexico after the vacation airline Sunwing axed their trips home.

The company has since apologized and said the cancellations were due to winter storms that swept across the country before Christmas Day.

Sunwing Airlines also halted flights from Saskatchewan until early February because of “extenuating circumstances” — drawing the ire of political leaders and passengers.

The widespread travel disruptions, which also included Via Rail, prompted MPs on the transport committee to demand a study into how passengers were treated.

The committee is set to meet later Monday to discuss the request and a call from Conservative and New Democrat members for Alghabra to be a witness at a future meeting.

“The minister has always appeared at committee when asked,” spokeswoman Nadine Ramadan said in an email.

The Liberal MP who chairs the committee previously said he wanted representatives from Sunwing and Via Rail to appear.

In a joint letter, the NDP and Conservative MPs pushing for the study said Canadians deserve answers for the “poor customer care” they experienced amid the delays, including poor communication around cancellations and, in one case, not having enough food on a train that ended up stuck for hours between Ottawa and Toronto.

In media interviews last week, Alghabra said the federal government was eyeing ways to strengthen protections for passengers who regulations stipulate are entitled to compensation from airlines when their flights are delayed or cancelled.

Prime Minster Justin Trudeau’s government is also facing calls to clear the backlog of complaints the Canadian Transportation Agency faces in hopes of more quickly resolving claims.

The headaches passengers experienced over the holidays are only the latest to be voiced around the country’s airlines and airports, which still appear to be recovering from the COVID-19 pandemic that led to widespread job losses and layoffs in the sector.

Last summer marked the first time passengers were free to travel without major health restrictions since the virus arrived in 2020. As the travel season got underway, passengers quickly started complaining about the frequency of delays, cancellations and lost baggage.

—Stephanie Taylor, The Canadian Press

RELATED: Holiday travel mess shows why Canadian air travel industry needs competition: NDP

Federal PoliticsTransportation

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