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Feds urge airlines to end bumping of passengers before law takes effect

MONTREAL - The federal transport minister is urging the country's airlines to live up to the spirit of its passenger bill of rights legislation, even before it comes into force as expected next year.

Marc Garneau called on airline executives at a closed-door meeting Friday to ensure children can be seated next to a parent at no extra charge and voluntarily stop removing passengers from full flights against their will.

"I sense a very constructive approach from the point of view of the industry," he said after the meeting that attracted almost 30 airline, airport and tourism officials.

The bill introduced this week is part of a package of amendments to the Canada Transportation Act that also raises the cap on foreign ownership in airlines and requires railways to install voice and video recorders in locomotives.

The new rules would also set minimum levels of compensation for people who voluntarily agree to be bumped from a flight and force airlines to establish clear standards of treatment and compensation for circumstances such as lost or damaged luggage, delays while sitting on the tarmac and other non-weather related issues.

Garneau also urged the travel industry to get ready for the changes by preparing to update their websites, technologies and internal policies.

Air Canada said it told the minister that it already complies "in large measure to his requests for example regarding children seat assignments" but didn't specifically say if it will alter its bumping policies.

"We are looking forward to participating in the consultation process relating to the new regulations over the coming months," said Air Canada spokeswoman Isabelle Arthur.

WestJet, which does not deliberately overbook its flights, said it is reviewing its policies on child seating and expects to announce details soon.

Canadian Automobile Association spokesman Ian Jack said two airline executives, whom he declined to identify, vowed to quickly stop forcing parents to pay any fees for children seating.

"I thought we saw some early fruit today," he said, adding that the legislation has caused airlines to begin altering their practices.

Jack said the battle will soon turn to the Canadian Transportation Agency, which will work to set the rules, including minimum levels of compensation and financial penalties for airlines that don't comply.

While the CTA has been criticized for not enforcing existing rules, Garneau insisted that it will under the new model.

"We are not putting passenger rights in place with compensations without also ensuring that they will also be enforceable," he said.

"So people who talk about the past can do so, but I'm focused on the future and what will be in place in 2018."

The association representing Canada's airports said it urged Garneau to improve security screening, a common source of passenger complaints.

With passenger numbers expected to continue growing, the Canadian Airports Council said service level standards need to be established and appropriate funding given to the Canadian Air Transport Security Authority.

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