Air Transat got heads up on Canadian airline regulator’s decision: court document

Two months after the country’s airline industry regulator ruled on how Air Transat treated its customers in Ottawa, a document shows the airline got advance notice of the decision from the Canadian Transportation Agency (CTA).

“I was disgusted,” said Gábor Lukács, who obtained a copy of an email to Air Transat from the CTA as part of the court proceedings.

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He is suing both the airline and the regulator over the decision to waive a $295,000 fine against the airline and instead pay $500 to each passenger inconvenienced last July. Air Transat was cited for 590 violations of air transportation regulations after an inquiry into the July 31 events where air travellers were stuck on the ground in two airplanes in Ottawa for five hours.

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Lukács has argued repeatedly that the CTA is too “cozy” with airlines and pointed to the November’s announcement as the most recent example.

Lukács shared an email with Global News from the CTA’s senior general counsel and secretary, Elizabeth C. Barker, to Air Transat’s senior legal counsel, Jean-Emmanuel Beaubrun.

In the email, Barker wrote, “A copy of this determination is being released to you under embargo in advance of its release to the public, expected to take place at or after 2 p.m. today.”

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Her email referred to a discussion “yesterday evening” on the same subject and cautioned Air Transat’s lawyer that, “You strictly manage the distribution of this document within Air Transat.” She added it should be shared on a “need-to-know basis.”

“The CTA disclosed to Air Transat the outcome of the inquiry before the public was informed,” said Lukács, who called the tip-off to the airline “troubling.”

Knowing the contents of the decision gave Air Transat an opportunity to prepare its media response in advance of other interest groups.

In response to the email, Air Transat’s vice president of human resources and corporate affairs, Christophe Hennebelle, told Global News, “We do not understand why you refer to ‘tipping off.’”

“It is not unusual for an agency or a tribunal to provide the parties…with a decision ahead of time (under embargo),” he said in a statement.

The CTA issued a press release the day prior to its announcement drawing attention to the forthcoming decision. But media organizations and the public at large were not given access to the decision itself.

When contacted to explain why it gave at least a three-hour heads-up to Air Transat, the agency told Global News, “The embargo procedure followed in this case is standard procedure followed by courts and administrative tribunals.”

However, disclosing the contents of a decision is not typical practice in Canada.

When asked whether consumer groups, interested parties or other organizations were also given advance copies of the decision, the CTA did not respond.

“If only Air Transat received notice of this, then what happened here was fundamentally wrong,” said Lukács.

“The very body that taxpayers fund to protect them — the consumers — is actually serving the private interests of a private company, Air Transat.”

— With files by David Lao

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