Canada’s Transport Authority intends to improve its passenger rights charter and set tougher rules for airline reimbursements – although some proponents say the rules fall short of frameworks in other countries.
New rules, taking effect Sept. 8, require airlines to either refund passengers or rebook passengers, at the traveller’s option, if a flight is canceled or delayed by three hours or more, the Canadian said Transportation Agency on Wednesday.
Previously, the air passenger rights regime only required refunds for flight disruptions that were within the airline’s control, which excluded situations ranging from weather to war to unscheduled mechanical problems.
“These regulations will fill the gap in Canada’s passenger protection regime highlighted by the COVID-19 pandemic and ensure passengers are protected even when cancellations and prolonged delays occur that are beyond the airline’s control when the airline cannot complete their itinerary within a reasonable period of time,” the agency’s chairman, France Pégeot, said in a press release.
The regulations are consistent with policies implemented by Air Canada in 2021, spokesman Peter Fitzpatrick said.
Thousands of Canadians have faced a spate of long delays and flight cancellations as airlines, security and customs officials struggle to manage staff shortages amid the recent surge in travel. The problem is expected to leave summer travelers without protection from the new rules, which won’t come into force until the autumn.
The regulations require airlines to offer a rebooking or refund within 30 days if they are unable to make a new reservation within 48 hours of a flight cancellation or delay of more than three hours.
Any unused portion of a ticket must be covered, including “any unused ancillary service that is paid for,” the regulator said. And a refund must match the original payment method. That means a credit card purchase couldn’t be refunded with a travel voucher, like most Canadian airlines did for nearly a year from March 2020, when hundreds of thousands of cancellations were sparked by the pandemic.
Ian Jack, a consumer rights advocate at the Canadian Automobile Association, called the revised charter “a very good but limited step forward” in protecting passengers, as airlines will be forced to pay refunds but will still be forced to pay compensation between $400 and $1,000 due to factors beyond their control.
“There is an incentive here for airlines to report mechanical problems. As a passenger, it’s very difficult for you to ever verify that,” Jack said.
His advocacy group is urging Ottawa to require airlines to publish data on delays and cancellations, like the United States is doing, to encourage competition and expose disproportionate numbers.
Gabor Lukacs, president of the advocacy group for air passenger rights, described the new framework as a “sham”.
He said requiring a refund or rebooking only if the airline cannot secure another seat on a plane departing within two days of the original departure time will meet the needs of travelers in situations ranging from weekend visits to short work trips enough, not fair.
“In the case of a Friday flight, if the flight is cancelled, the airline may offer the passenger a one-way flight for Sunday, which the passenger can never take because he works on Monday. And the airline can still pocket the money. ‘ Lukacs said in an interview.
“We live in a very fast-moving world. A few hours late means you won’t be able to attend a funeral, a wedding, or a court hearing.”
The European Union requires airlines to provide a seat on the plane within five hours of the first departure – not 48 – or a refund must be offered.
In the EU and the US, under the new Canadian system, passengers must also be reimbursed for a flight cancellation within seven days instead of 30.
The CTA acknowledged the change isn’t in line with EU or US requirements, but said it takes into account the realities of Canadian airlines.
“(They) may have to make multiple refunds at once due to weather-related disruptions,” the agency notes in its analysis of the impact of the regulations.
Airlines argue that the Air Passenger Protection Ordinance that came into force in 2019 already goes too far.
Canadian airlines petitioned a federal appeals court in April to overturn rules that strengthen compensation for passengers who face delayed flights and damaged luggage.
Air Canada and Porter Airlines Inc., along with 16 other complainants, said the Charter of Passenger Rights violated global standards and should be invalidated for international flights.
Under the three-year-old federal rules, passengers must be compensated up to $2,400 if they were denied boarding – known as flight bumping – because a trip was overbooked, and up to $2,100 for lost or damaged baggage. Delays and other payments for canceled flights warrant up to $1,000 in compensation.
This report from The Canadian Press was first published on June 22, 2022.
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Christopher Reynolds, The Canadian Press