Passengers whose flights are delayed or cancelled, or who are denied a plane seat due to overbooking, will be eligible for compensation under the federal government’s new proposed regulations for air travel.

The so-called passenger bill of rights marks the first time the government has laid out specific requirements for airlines to follow when passengers are inconvenienced.

It spells out a minimum rebate of $400 for a three-hour delay of a large commercial flight, rising to $1,000 for a delay of nine hours or more. Lower minimums are in place for smaller operators, including ultra-low-cost services.

Passengers bumped from flights due to overbooking or scheduled aircraft maintenance would be eligible for an immediate $900 in compensation, with $2,400 on offer for passengers delayed nine hours or more due to those issues.

Compensation would not be required in cases where delays are caused due to unforeseen events such as inclement weather, emergency maintenance, airport operation issues and medical emergencies, or safety-related issues.

The proposed guidelines were detailed Monday by Transport Minister Marc Garneau at an event at Ottawa International Airport. Once finalized, they will apply to all passenger flights originating or landing in Canada.

“Buying an air ticket can be a big expense for a Canadian family, and we expect the airline to honour their end of the deal,” Garneau said.

“Except in circumstances which are beyond their control, we are going to make sure that airlines treat passengers with the respect they deserve.”

Airlines are currently largely able to set their own policies around disruptions, delays and other inconveniences. The federal government does have a few regulations in place, including a requirement that passengers receive meal vouchers after a four-hour flight delay.

Tarmac delays are also addressed in the proposed bill of rights. At present, airlines are mandated to offer snacks during tarmac delays “if it is safe, practical and timely to do so” and allow passengers the option of leaving the plane after 90 minutes.

The new regulations would require planes to return to the gates after three hours, with one 45-minute extension allowed.

“If that airplane is the next one to be de-iced and it’s in the queue to take off, we don’t want to force that pilot to turn around and go back to the gate at the three-hour mark because everyone wants to get to their destination,” said Canadian Transportation Agency CEO Scott Streiner.

‘A slap in the face’: advocate

Gabor Lukacs, founder of the passenger advocacy group Air Passenger Rights, called the proposed regulations “industry-friendly regulations” that will make things worse for Canadian travellers. He said Air Canada and WestJet already have policies in place that are similar to or better for passenger than the minimum requirements Garneau outlined.

“This is a slap in the face of Canadian passengers,” he told CTV News Channel.

Lukacs also said that having different rules for smaller and larger airlines is unprecedented.

“I don't know any other place in the world that would have such a two-tier system,” he said.

Under the new regulations, “reasonable quantities” of food and drink must be made available after two hours, as well as free Wi-Fi or a similar means of electronic communication.

If delays extend overnight, airlines must offer all passengers free hotel rooms and transportation between the airport and the hotel. This was previously only a requirement for passengers whose travel plans did not start at the airport in question.

Additionally, in cases where a passenger cannot take off within nine hours of their original departure time, airlines will now be required to book them on a flight from a competing operator, if possible. Passengers whose travel plans are made untenable by flight delays will now be provided with full refunds plus up to $400 for their inconvenience.

An airline could face a fine of up to $25,000 for each case in which it does not comply with the regulations, which also include new requirements for seating children near their parents and compensating passengers for lost or damaged luggage on domestic flights.

National Airlines Council of Canada President Massimo Bergamini said that “air carriers have every interest in ensuring the best possible service for their guests and passengers.”

The proposed regulations are subject to public consultation until Feb. 20, 2019. Garneau expects finalized regulations to be developed by next spring and come into effect next summer.