Canada increases protections for air travelers

Flying to or through Canada? Then you’ll want to know about a recently enacted piece of legislation that should provide passengers with better standards of care, quicker communication … and more compensation when their flights are delayed or cancelled.

The legislation, called the Air Passenger Protection Regulations, became fully effective in Canada on Dec. 15, 2019. While similar to its European counterpart, Regulation EU 261, the Canadian law is broader in that it accounts not only for delayed or cancelled flights and denied boarding, but also for rights of passengers under the age of 14, compensation for lost or damaged baggage, fair advertising of air ticket prices, and even carriage of musical instruments.

Even before December, however, air travelers in Canada were enjoying enhanced protections.

WestJet Boeing 767

The first stage of changes to the Canadian passenger protection law – an amendment which took effect on July 15, 2019 - imposed an obligation on carriers to inform passengers, promptly and in a comprehensive way, of their rights in case of flight delay or cancellation, denied boarding, as well as baggage loss or damage.

In cases of delays, airlines must update passengers on the current status of the flight every half an hour until the new departure time is confirmed via an audible and visible announcement, as well as by email or text message. Airlines are also required to ensure that persons with disabilities have access to information in a suitable format, whether that is electronic, on paper or, if necessary, in Braille.

Further, when passengers are waiting for the delayed take-off on board an aircraft, they must have access to lavatories in working order, proper ventilation and cooling or heating, food and drink, as well as must have a possibility to communicate with people outside of the plane. Offering free Wi-Fi is cited as one way to facilitate that communication.

When the delay exceeds three hours, the airline must provide the passenger with reservation for the next available flight. If the flight is rescheduled for the following day, the airline must provide free accommodation together with necessary transport. The table below shows the levels of compensation based on the length of the delay.

When a passenger is denied boarding due to overbooking, the law requires airline to first ask for a volunteer who will give up their seat. The carrier must confirm in writing the arrangement of substitute benefits before the flight departs. Passengers who voluntarily give up their seats are entitled to have the ticket refunded, as well as to receive C$400 (for large carriers) and C$125 (for small carriers) in compensation.

When baggage is lost due to the carrier’s fault, the airline is liable to up to C$2,100 for domestic flights. Passengers can claim compensation from an airline up to one year from the date of departure, and carriers are expected to respond to the complaint within 30 days.

The amendment also provided for assignment of such seats to children under 14 that enable contact with their guardian (in December, the regulation was clarified, mandating designation of a specific row/seat, depending on the age of a child).

The second stage of changes, which took effect Dec. 15, primarily dealt with the minimum amount of compensation for a flight delay or cancellation. The amount is calculated based on how much behind schedule the flight arrived at its destination, as the table below shows.

My take

I've written about this before but noted that most travelers don’t know about those protections at all, even though air carriers are required to post signs and provide documents notifying travelers that they may be entitled to compensation and outlining the passengers’ rights. As a result, when a flight is delayed, travelers often do not understand whether they are entitled to compensation under their specific circumstances, or how to get whatever they may have coming to them.

Companies like GIVT and Berlin-based flightright serve as a go-betweens, working with the airlines on passengers’ behalf. Passengers are assessed fees for the services, often a percentage of the amount awarded.

If you are flying a Canadian or EU carrier and your flight is delayed or cancelled, it will be your choice whether to act on your own behalf or to engage outside assistance. In either case, as the British proverb goes, “Forewarned is forearmed.”

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Photos provided by WestJet; table courtesy GIVT
Click on graphic to view larger image

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