OTTAWA — Transport Minister Marc Garneau issued a pointed warning Thursday to all airlines operating in Canada: forcibly removing passengers from overbooked airplanes will not be tolerated by the federal government.
Garneau issued a letter to the heads of every airline that flies in and out of the country to warn them that an incident like the one that injured an American doctor earlier this week is not to happen in Canada.
"I am sure that you were as disturbed as I was, and as all Canadians were, over the appalling incident that took place onboard a United flight earlier this week, when a passenger was forcibly removed from his seat," he wrote.
Transport Minister Marc Garneau issued a pointed warning Thursday to all airlines operating in Canada: forcibly removing passengers from overbooked airplanes will not be tolerated by the federal government. (Photo: Sean Kilpatrick/The Canadian Press)
"I am writing to you today to convey that such an incident would be unacceptable in Canada."
The warning goes out not just to Canadian airlines such as Air Canada and WestJet, but also to international airlines that fly in and out of the country — a category to which United Airlines itself belongs.
The letter comes five days after David Dao, 69, was dragged off a United flight in Chicago on Sunday after refusing to leave his seat to accommodate airline crew members. He suffered a concussion, a broken nose and two missing teeth when security officers forced him off the plane against his will, banging his head on armrests in the process.
Dao spent almost five days in hospital and requires reconstructive surgery on his sinus. He has hired lawyers who told a news conference Thursday they expect to file a lawsuit against the airline.
The incident spawned outrage from already frazzled airline passengers. United CEO Oscar Munoz compounded the blowback when he initially appeared to blame Dao himself for the incident, accusing him of being belligerent and unco-operative.
Munoz has since called Dao directly to apologize and issued a notice to United employees that passengers must not be forced off airplanes except for security reasons.
Garneau's warning comes ahead of expected legislation to introduce a passengers' bill of rights in Canada. The legislation, expected this spring, is to outline what passengers can expect from airlines in situations such as bumping from overbooked planes or for lost or damaged luggage.
"When passengers purchase an airline ticket, they expect and deserve that the airline will fulfill its part of the transaction," Garneau wrote.
"When that agreement is not fulfilled, passengers are entitled to clear, transparent and enforceable compensation."
He said the legislation will be introduced in the coming weeks and that co-operation from the airlines "will be essential as we move to further improve the traveller experience."