Airline passengers in Canada will soon have some basic rights codified by the Canadian Transportation Agency. But don’t get too excited about the potential for payouts on your next delayed flight. While that is possible in some circumstances the CTA’s approach ensures that airlines are protected from paying under a wide range of conditions.
The full text of the proposed rules will be published by the government on 22 December 2018. A 60-day comment period will follow after which the CTA can revise before issuing a final ruling. The new policies are expected to take effect for travel in mid-2019.
“Our government is pleased with the progress made in strengthening air passenger rights for Canadians, and that Canadians have had – and continue to have – a chance to shape these rules. An airline ticket is a contract for service, and it imposes obligations on both the airline and on the traveller. Once finalized, these regulations will create a more predictable and balanced approach that will benefit both.” – The Honourable Marc Garneau, Minister of Transport
The structure of the rules is similar to those of Europe’s EU261 compensation scheme. The CTA’s version addresses much of the ambiguity EU261 offers and is more explicit around what issues are considered within an airline’s control, mostly to the benefit of the carriers. Similar to the EU regulations the rules cover flight delays and cancelations as well as denied boarding. Canada extended the framework to also include assigned seating for children, a significant challenge in the era of fees for seat assignment. Canada’s rules apply to all flights to, from, and within Canada, including connections. At this time it is unclear if that includes issues on a flight wholly outside of Canada where the passenger is connecting to or from Canada.
Delays and Cancelations
For passengers on flights that are cancelled or delayed more than three hours the new CTA rules prescribe specific compensation requirements to be paid out to passengers. Canada splits airlines into large and small operators, with the latter classified as carrying fewer than one million passengers in the prior two consecutive years. All other airlines are large. The CTA estimates that more than 90% of passengers fly on large airlines within the country.
Unlike the EU regulations compensation is tied only to the total delay in arrival at the final destination; the length of the flight does not factor into the calculation.
Canada’s regulations also clarify when mechanical delays require payment, favoring the airlines versus the European version. Specifically, passengers are not to be paid compensation for “a mechanical problem that reduces the safety of passengers, but not one identified during scheduled maintenance.” In other words, unexpected mechanical issues are not covered in Canada; they are in Europe.
During those unexpected mechanical events, as well as other circumstances under the airlines’ control, they are obligated to provide food and free wifi after a delay of two hours or more. Overnight delays obligate airlines to provide a hotel room and transportation.
Other circumstances deemed outside an airline’s control include bird strikes, labor unrest at an airport or air traffic control provider, inclement weather and war. In those cases the airlines hold no obligations for compensation due to delays or cancelations.
Once a flight delay reaches three hours the CTA requires that airlines offer a rebooking option to passengers. Assuming the cause is within airline control rebookings must be in the same cabin of service and on a competing airline if the next in-house departure is more than 9 hours after the original schedule. If the revised itineraries are not acceptable passengers can request a full refund and additional compensation of $400 on a large airline or $125 from a small airline.
For issues outside the airline’s control rebookings on a competing airline are not required unless the delay reaches 48 hours.
Similar to the delay rules, airlines are obligated to pay passengers denied boarding for reasons within their control. The amount paid runs on a sliding scale based on the delay in reaching the final destination.
For both delays and denied boarding passengers traveling on award tickets are included in the compensation scheme.
The new rules preclude airlines from charging passengers to assign seats in advance if a child is included in the booking. Just how close the kid must be to a parent, guardian or tutor depends on their age.
- Under the age of 5: in a seat adjacent to their parent, guardian or tutor.
- Aged 5 to 11: in the same row and separated by no more than one seat from their parent, guardian or tutor.
- Aged 12 or 13: separated by no more than one row from the parent, guardian or tutor.
This must be provided “at no extra cost and at the earliest opportunity” so airlines cannot wait until travelers arrive at the airport to deliver the benefit.
We all know flying can be a hassle, especially this time of year. As an air traveler, your rights should be protected. Today we’re taking action & proposing new regulations on delays, overbookings, lost baggage, seating families together & more. Details: https://t.co/Ous0VF1Snb pic.twitter.com/dWFGHOai1W
— Justin Trudeau (@JustinTrudeau) December 17, 2018
Overall the new rules deliver a structure such that passengers and airlines alike know what is expected and what to deliver. There will be scenarios where passengers might need to choose whether to claim compensation under the Canadian or EU rules depending on the cause of the problem and which will pay better. And undoubtedly the policies will see some tweaks between now and implementation.