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Backlog of airline complaints balloons by 6,395 since December travel chaos: Canadian Transportation Agency

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The fallout from the December travel chaos continues, as the backlog of complaints made to the Canadian Transportation Agency (CTA) keeps growing.

As of Jan. 31, there have been 6,395 new complaints made to the agency since Dec. 21. Of these complaints, 2,028 are related to Air Canada, 1,951 are related to WestJet and 761 are related to Sunwing, the CTA told CTV National News on Tuesday.

Under the Air Passenger Protection Regulations, Canadians are entitled to receive up to $1,000 in compensation for delays and cancellations, depending on the size of the airline and the length of the delay, as long as the delay was within the airlines' control and not related to safety.

Filing a complaint with the CTA is supposed to be a last resort, when Canadian air passengers are denied compensation and unable to resolve their dispute while dealing directly with the airline. But instead of a prompt resolution, passengers are being told to take a number.

In total, the CTA says it's dealing with a backlog of more than 36,000 complaints, with complainants facing wait times of up to 18 months for a decision.

"We have received more complaints than we have been able to process in a given period of time," Tom Oommen, chief compliance and enforcement officer of the CTA, told CTV National News.

Dave Britton is one of the thousands of complainants waiting to hear back on a decision from the CTA. He was denied compensation by WestJet after his family trip was cancelled, but there are more than 33,000 people in line ahead of him.

"If the system works even remotely the way it's supposed to, I think we will get compensated. But if that's going to be two years from now, that money is not going to help us anytime soon," he told CTV National News. "And it's certainly not going to ease any of the pain and suffering and having to battle for something that you're entitled to."

Lawyer Adam Pawlovich, who is also waiting to hear back on a complaint from the CTA after his flight from Mexico was detoured, says he's considering filing a claim at small claims court given how long it's taking the CTA.

"We're not seeing resolution for consumers. If you don't take steps to protect your rights … at some point you're going to be out of time to seek your remedy," he told CTV National News.

Transport Minister Omar Alghabra has vowed to strengthen passenger protections and rules for airlines after the recent travel woes. On Tuesday, when asked about the thousands of new complaints to the CTA, he said he can "feel their frustration."

Alghabra added: "We are taking action and we're going to do what we can to fix the system."

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