Passenger bill of rights: The air travel rules coming into effect in December
TORONTO – With the holiday season fast approaching and Canadians finalizing their travel plans, the federal government’s second wave of air passenger protections will come into effect.
By Dec. 15, airlines will have to abide by the Canadian Transportation Agency’s (CTA) second set of rules intended to protect travellers when their trips don’t go as planned.
This round of regulations outlines what compensation passengers are entitled to when their flights are delayed or cancelled. The rules will also dictate where children should be seated on the plane.
The first phase of the CTA’s so-called passenger bill of rights was introduced in July and laid out new rules for airlines to follow when it comes to tarmac delays, overbooking, lost or damaged baggage, transporting musical instruments, and communication issues.
Despite a legal challenge launched by a group of airlines, including Air Canada, Porter Airlines, and the International Air Transport Association (IATA), that argues the new regulations violate international standards, the airlines are currently obligated to abide by them or face hefty fines while the appeal makes its way through the courts.
Here is what’s included in the CTA’s final set of regulations.
COMPENSATION FOR DELAYS, CANCELLATIONS
According to the Air Passenger Protection Regulations, airlines will be compelled to compensate passengers for flight delays that are within their control and not related to safety. The amount of compensation depends on the size of the airline and the length of delay.
Larger carriers, such as Air Canada and WestJet, will have to pay more than smaller airlines, such as Porter and Swoop.
Compensation by large airlines
- Delay of 3-6 hours: $400
- Delay of 6-9 hours: $700
- Delay of 9 hours or more: $1,000
Compensation by small airlines
- Delay of 3-6 hours: $125
- Delay of 6-9 hours: $250
- Delay of 9 hours or more: $500
In the past, airlines have offered vouchers and other forms of compensation when there are flight delays, even though the law required them to give monetary compensation. The new regulations reaffirm this regulation and state that passengers must be given the option to receive monetary compensation for a delay.
The new protections also state that if a passenger chooses an alternative form of compensation, such as a voucher or rebate, it must have a higher value than the monetary amount and it must never expire.
In addition to compensation, airlines will be expected to provide a minimum “standard of treatment” in the event of a flight delay.
Standard of treatment
- Provide passengers with food and drink in “reasonable quantities”
- Offer electronic means of communication, such as free Wi-Fi, if the delay at departure lasts longer than 2 hours
- If the delay is expected to extend into the night, airlines must provide accommodations and transport to that location free of charge
For all types of flight delays and cancellations, the passenger bill of rights states that airlines must ensure passengers complete their itinerary and reach their final destination.
If the delay extends past three hours, airlines will need to rebook passengers on their next available flight in the same class of service as their original ticket. If the next available flight on that airline is scheduled to depart nine or more hours after the initial flight, larger airlines must rebook customers on a competing airline.
In the event the flight cancellation is within the airline’s control and not required for safety reasons and the passenger is dissatisfied with the rebooking, they will be entitled to a full refund and compensation for the inconvenience.
‘A STEP BACKWARDS'
While some have welcomed the government’s new regulations, Gabor Lukacs, founder of the advocacy group Air Passenger Rights, argues they will be a “step backwards” for travellers.
Under the CTA’s rules, Lukacs said airlines will be able to refuse compensation to customers by claiming the flight delays or cancellations were due to unforeseen maintenance or mechanical problems.
According to the passenger bill of rights, situations within airline control, but required for safety purposes that won’t be compensated can include maintenance or mechanical problems that are not identified during scheduled maintenance.
Lukacs described the definition as “extremely flexible” and expressed concern that airlines may use it too broadly to avoid paying passengers.
“Airlines are already making all sorts of claims of maintenance issues and mechanical failures of all sorts. That’s a common problem already,” he told CTVNews.ca during a telephone interview in November. “Now, under the new rules, this is going to have an official stamp that this is acceptable.”
The air passenger rights advocate said the CTA’s rules fall short of European standards, which he calls the “gold standard” in passenger protections. In Europe, Lukacs said the only time airlines aren’t held responsible for delays or cancellations is during “extraordinary” circumstances, such as snow storms, volcanic eruptions, or acts of terrorism.
“Things that are completely external to the airline’s normal operations,” he explained.
SEATING OF CHILDREN
Along with compensation for delays and cancellations, the passenger protections coming into effect on Dec. 15 will lay out rules for seating children on a plane at no additional charge to the customer.
- Under the age of 5: In a seat adjacent to guardian
- Aged 5 to 11: In the same row and separated by no more than one seat from guardian
- Aged 12 or 13: Separated by no more than one row from guardian
While the CTA’s regulations are being described as new, Lukacs said that’s not actually the case. He pointed to a prior decision by the Canadian Transportation Agency from Dec. 31, 2014 that ordered carriers to “make all reasonable efforts” to seat children under the age of 12 next to their guardian without charge.
However, Lukacs acknowledged the ruling hasn’t always been enforced.
What’s more, Lukacs said the passenger bill of rights provides airlines with more freedom to seat children away from the parents when compared to some carriers’ existing policies.
For example, Air Canada’s domestic tariffs policy states that children under the age of 12 will receive “complimentary seat assignment ensuring children are seated adjacent to an adult/guardian travelling with them.”
Under the passenger bill of rights, airlines will only have to provide children under the age of five with a seat adjacent to their guardians.
FILING A COMPLAINT
The onus will be on passengers to file a claim for compensation under the new passenger protections.
Travellers will have one year to make a claim with the airline responsible for the flight disruption. Following that, the airline will have 30 days to respond to the complaint, either by issuing compensation or an explanation as to why it thinks it’s not owed.
If the dispute can’t be resolved directly between the passenger and the airline, the passenger can file a complaint with the CTA through its website.
Lukacs, on the other hand, actually discourages passengers from filing complaints with the CTA. Instead, he recommends they take the offending airline to small claims court.
According to the CTA, airlines will be required to follow the regulations as soon as they come into effect and will be subjected to penalties of up to $25,000 per infraction.
However, Lukacs expressed concern about this form of punishment for airlines because he said the CTA has had the power to fine carriers for at least a decade, but they have rarely done so. He also said when they have been fined, the fees have been waived.