In July 2019, the Federal Government of Canada unveiled a new set of rules destined to better protect air passengers in Canada.
More broadly, they aim at ensuring that both airlines and passengers are aware of what their rights are in case of trouble.
The first set of rules came into effect on July 15, 2019. The last part is applicable since December 15, 2019.
Here's a handy summary:
In this post, we will detail:
- When and for Whom these Rules Apply
- Passenger Rights Rules in Canada
- What is Wrong with those New Rules
- How the Canadian Airlines reacted to them
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The federal Canadian Transportation Agency (CTA) stated that these rules apply to all flights to, from and within Canada (domestic flights and international flights in connection with Canada).
All airlines are subject to these new rules; however, some of them vary according to the size of the airlines.
Indeed, these new Canadian passenger right rules state that smaller airlines pay smaller compensations than larger airlines and their rebooking penalties aren't as onerous.
New Standards for Improved Communication
General rules of Communication
The first rule of the new regulation require "that passengers be informed of their rights in a timely, clear and accessible way".
The terms and conditions of carriage of each airline must provide passengers with information in "simple, clear and concise language" for situations related to flight delays and cancellations, boarding denial, lost or damaged luggage, and seating of children less than 14.
This information will have to be provided to the passengers on all travel documents (via a link to the airline's website, for example). The airline is also asked to make reasonable efforts to ensure that passengers purchasing tickets via resellers will be made aware of these rules.
Communication when a Flight Disruption Occurs
In cases of flight delays (including tarmac delays), flight cancellations, and boarding denials, airlines are required to keep passengers regularly informed.
This includes informing passengers about the reason why their flight is disrupted, as soon as possible. Airlines are free to do so via:
- an audible announcement;
- a visible announcement, upon request; and
- the available communication method the passenger has selected (e.g., email, SMS)
In addition, airlines must provide "flight status updates every 30 minutes until a new departure time has been confirmed".
Improved Communication with Disabled Passengers
Airlines are now responsible for ensuring that "communication is accessible to persons with disabilities".
Should communications be made digitally, they have to be compatible adaptive technologies used by peoples with disabilities.
When made in paper format, the airline will have to be able to provide communications "in large print, Braille or a digital format", upon request by the passenger.
Boarding Denials due to Overbooking or Change of Aircraft
Passengers are denied boarding due to overbooking when they have a valid travel document but are unable to board the plane because the airline sold more tickets than there are seats on the plane.
The new rules make it mandatory for airlines to ask whether some passengers volunteer to give up their seat, rather than arbitrarily choose who won't board the plane. Should there be any volunteers, the airline must "put in writing for them the benefits agreed to prior to the departure of their flight."
Passenger denied boarding due to reasons within the airline's control, such as overbooking or the change of aircraft due to maintenance (resulting in fewer seats on board) are entitled to compensation.
The amount of the compensation is based on the length of the delay at arrival at their final destination.
- Delay between 0 and 6 hours: minimum compensation of C$900
- Delay between 6 and 9 hours: minimum compensation of C$1800
- Delay of 9 hours or more: minimum compensation of C$2400
The airline is required to pay this compensation when they notify their passengers that they are denied boarding. Should the delay at arrival be longer than expected and require a supplement be paid, the airline must indeed pay this supplement.
E.g. the delay at destination was expected to be 5 hours, but it turned out to be over 6 hours. The airline would have (supposedly) paid C$900 in compensation, when the passenger is owed C$1800. The airline must therefore pay the complementary C$900.
If the airline be unable to pay the compensation before the flight's departure, they have 48h to issue the payment.
Passengers will be rebooked free of charge and the airline must "provide the standards of treatment described for flight delays and cancellations" (see more about that below).
The new rules seek to make the situation of passengers stuck in the plane before departure a bit more tolerable.
(They completely fail at doing so - more on that below)
"Standards of treatment for all tarmac delays include, at minimum, access to working lavatories, proper ventilation and heating or cooling, food and drink, and the ability to communicate with people outside the plane free of charge, if feasible."
This applies to all tarmac delays with a Canadian airline, whether they occur in Canada or abroad.
In the case of tarmac delays longer than 3 hours occurring at a Canadian airport, airlines are required to go back to the gate, in order to let passengers disembark.
The plane can stay an additional 45 minutes on the tarmac, if the airline deems it likely that it will take off within this time frame and that the airline is still capable to continue providing the "required standards of treatment".
Under no circumstances, however, can the plane stay stuck on the tarmac for longer than 3h45 without disembarking the passengers.
Lost and Damaged Luggage
Canada has ratified the Montreal Convention, which states that airlines can be held liable for baggage that is damaged or lost during international travel, up to approximately $2100.
In order to better protect passengers traveling in Canada, the new rules extends this protection to domestic flights.
Transportation of Musical Instruments
Airlines must now include in their tariffs, terms and conditions of carriage, information regarding the transportation of musical instruments.
- Weight, size and quantity restrictions;
- Cabin storage options;
- Options in the event of aircraft downgrading; and
- Fees for transporting musical instruments.
A policy simply stating that the airline refuses the transportation of musical instruments is deemed non compliant.
In the event of flight disruptions, in addition to the communication requirements above, airlines must inform passengers on the applicable standards of treatment and compensation (see "Right to Care" below).
They must also present passengers with their recourse options, which includes submitting a complaint to the Canadian Transportation Agency.
Compensations for Cancelled and Delayed Flights
For all flight delays and cancellation within the airline's control and not related to security, the airline will have to provide compensation to passengers.
The amount varies according to the length of the delay at arrival at the final destination, along with the size of the airline.
For large airlines:
- Delay between 3-6 hours: C$400
- Delay between 6-9 hours: C$700
- Delay of 9+ hours: C$1000
For small airlines:
- Delay between 3-6 hours: C$125
- Delay between 6-9 hours: C$250
- Delay of 9+ hours: C$500
Passengers victim of flight delays and cancellations have 1 year to submit their compensation claim to the airline.
Airlines have, in turn, 30 days to issue the payment or provide a statement explaining why they believe that no compensation is due.
"Airlines will have to offer passengers this compensation in monetary form. They could also offer passengers alternative forms of compensation (e.g., vouchers or rebates), but passengers will always have the right to select what they prefer."
Should the airline make an offer of compensation in a non-monetary form, the amount "will have to be of higher value than the monetary compensation that is required, and can never expire".
Right to Care in cases of Flight Delays
For delays at departure of at least 2 hours that are within the airline's control, the carrier must provide:
- food and drink in reasonable quantities; and
- electronic means of communication (e.g., free wifi).
Should the delay extend overnight, the airline must provide passengers with a hotel (or other comparable accommodation) free of charge. They must also provide transportation to the accommodation for free.
Airlines are responsible for ensuring that passengers victim of delayed or cancelled flights reach their final destination.
For delays over 3 hours, airlines must rebook passengers on their next available flight.
For flight disrupted because of reasons within the airline's control:
- Passengers have to be rebooked in the same class of service.
- Large airlines have to rebook the passenger on another (competing) airline, if their own next available flight departs 9 or more hours after the passenger's original departure time.
- If the rebooking does not meet a passenger's travel needs (e.g., there is no longer any purpose to the travel), the passenger is entitled to a full refund of their ticket, in addition to a compensation of C$400 for large airlines and C$125 for small airlines.
For flight disrupted because of reasons outside the airline's control, large airline are required to rebook passengers using the services of another (competing) airline, if their own next available flight does not depart within 48 hours.
The rerouting option must be, in all situations, "reasonable".
If a large airline cannot rebook a passenger on a flight departing from the same airport within 48 hours of the original departure time, they will have to book the passenger on a flight leaving another airport, provided that there is an option nearby.
Airlines will have to, at no extra cost and at the earliest opportunity, help seat children under the age of 14 near to their parent, guardian or tutor.
The proximity is determined by the age of the child:
- Child aged 5 or less: in a seat adjacent to their parent, guardian or tutor.
- Child aged 5 to 11: in the same row and separated by no more than one seat from their parent, guardian or tutor.
- Child aged 12 or 13: separated by no more than a row from the parent, guardian or tutor.
Enforcement of the new Rules
Non compliant airlines expose themselves to fines of up to C$25,000 per incident. Clients can submit a complaint to the Canadian Transportation Agency.
You can read more on these new rules on the CTA's website.
While these rules were undoubtedly implemented with good intentions and that some progress has been made, they are still far from perfect.
For starters, Canadians still have fewer rights than EU air passengers.
Worse, they potentially introduce more risks for passenger safety.
Airlines can keep you on the tarmac longer than before
The 2008 Code of Conduct of Canada’s Airlines stated that an airline could keep passengers on the tarmac for up to 90 minutes (1h30), delay after which it had to let passengers disembark.
With these new rules, passengers can be kept in the plane, stuck on the tarmac, for up to 3h45 (3h as a general rule, and an additional 45 minutes should the airline estimate that there is a reasonable chance that the flight will depart within this time frame).
That's more than double the current limit.
Denied Boarding Compensation: you probably won't get one
The new rules seem pretty generous in terms of compensations for boarding denials: up to C$2,400.
But there's a catch.
To get your compensation before, you needed to prove that you had a confirmed booking, valid travel documents, and that you were on time at check-in. That's not longer enough.
Now, you will also have to prove why you were denied boarding.
If the airline doesn't provide you with a proof that there were more passengers at the gate than there were seats on the plane and that this happened because of the airline (either because they overbooked the flight or they had to change the plane to a smaller one because of maintenance issues), you won't get a compensation.
In short, if the airline doesn't admit responsibility, you won't get a denied boarding compensation.
Creation of a MAJOR Security Risk
If the airline finds a mechanical problem with the plane during maintenance and they have to cancel or delay the flight, passengers are entitled to compensation.
But if they find the fault just before departure, no compensation is due.
What does it mean?
Airlines finding problems at the last minute are rewarded, while those that find a problem during a scheduled maintenance (as it should be) are punished.
This will encourage airlines to conduct fewer maintenance tests, risking the safety of passengers.
Nothing Changes regarding the Enforcement of these Rules
The main issue when it comes to passenger rights is their enforcement. Passengers that are legally entitled to compensation are more often than not declined compensation.
We were expecting the rules to implement stricter enforcement mechanism to ensure that passenger rights are respected, but nothing changes.
Canadian airlines, including Air Canada and Porter Airlines, are asking the Federal Court of Appeal.
They argue that the required compensations for delayed flights (and damaged luggage) violates international standards. They ask the new rules be made invalid.
John McKenna, head of the Air Transport Association of Canada, has called these new rules “ridiculous” and claims that they will result in a rise in ticket prices.
Canada's Transport Minister Marc Garneau said he was “surprised” and “disappointed” with this reaction from airlines representatives.
“We feel that the passenger rights that we've put in place are going to stand up and that they're very fair to both passengers and to the airlines.”
Conclusion: These New Rules are Far From Progress for Passenger Rights in Canada
While some elements of these new rules are welcome, such as the implementation of monetary compensation for flight delays, which goes in the direction of EU rules, most do not go far enough.
Because the right to compensation relies on a passenger's ability to prove that the airline was responsible for the disruption - which is something that only the airline has access to - they are most likely to not receive any compensation. This is an obvious loophole.
Worst, as we mentioned, the new rules encourage airline to hold maintenance until the last minute, incurring higher risks for the safety or air passengers.
ClaimCompass calls for a revision of these rules to protect passengers and their rights more effectively.
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