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Know Your Rights as an Airline Passenger


This summer's travel season has stretched travellers' patience to the limit, with many experiencing delays, cancellations, lost luggage and endless lines at airports. While experts predict a less turbulent airport and travel experience for the fall, it's important for travellers to understand their rights and what to do if they experience problems during air travel.

Delays or Cancellations?
There are three types of rules airlines must follow. The Canadian Transport Agency (CTA) regulations cover flights to, from and within Canada. Other governing bodies include the International Civil Aviation Organization's Montreal Convention and the rules set out by the airlines themselves.

When an airline delays or cancels a flight, what you are entitled to as a passenger depends on the airline's level of control over the reason for the delay or cancellation. The situation falls into one of the following:
  1. within the airline's control (includes commercial decisions such as overbooking or consolidating flights)

  2. within the airline's control but required for safety (such as mechanical malfunctions)

  3. outside the airline's control (includes safety and security, natural phenomena such as weather, or airport operational issues)
In all situations, you have a right to communication, including information about why your flight was delayed/cancelled, what assistance they can provide, whether you are entitled to compensation and what recourse is available to you (including through the CTA). Airlines must give updates every 30 minutes.

Suppose you've waited for 2 hours after departure and your flight is delayed for 3 hours or more, or is cancelled. The disruption relates to one of the first two reasons above. In that case, you also have the right to assistance in the way of food and drinks, access to means of communication (such as free Wi-Fi) and a hotel or other accommodation, depending on the circumstances.

Rebooking and Refunds
If your flight is delayed for 3 hours or more or is cancelled for any reason, the airline must rebook you on another flight. The details of the new flight depend on the reason for the cancellation and the size of the airline.

You might be entitled to a full or partial refund under certain circumstances if you didn't accept the new flight offered because it doesn't meet your needs or no longer serves a purpose. The airline is not required to provide refunds if the delay or cancellation was out of its control.

You may even be entitled to compensation from the airline, in addition to a refund, depending on how late you arrived at your destination and on the size of the airline. For large airlines, the compensation ranges from $400 to $1,000, depending on the length of the delay. On small airlines, the compensation ranges from $125 to $500, depending on the length of the delay.

New Refund Regulations
Starting on September 8, 2022, new refund requirements will go into effect for cancelled flights or long delays due to a situation outside the airline's control. Under the new regulations, if your flight has been cancelled/delayed by 3 hours, the airlines must offer to rebook you free of charge on their next available flight or on the next available flight on an airline with which they have a commercial agreement. If they rebook you in a higher class of service, you will not be charged for the upgrade, and if they downgrade you, they must refund the price difference.

Many of us have experienced being bumped from a flight when there are fewer seats available on a flight than there are passengers checked in.

Before bumping a passenger for a reason that is within their control, airlines must first seek volunteers. If you are bumped for a reason within the airline's control and is not safety-related, you are entitled to a certain standard of treatment, compensation, rebooking or a refund.

Tarmac Delays
There is nothing quite so frustrating as a tarmac delay because you are trapped in a non-moving aircraft. Airlines must provide certain amenities while passengers wait onboard the plane. These include communicating free of charge via Wi-Fi if possible, and food and drink in reasonable quantities. However, this may only be a bottle of water and granola bar for a 3-hour delay.

Delayed, Lost, or Damaged Luggage
The airlines must refund any fees you had to pay for baggage services if your baggage has been lost, damaged or delayed. These could include:
  1. standard baggage fees

  2. fees for extra baggage and/or

  3. fees for oversized and/or overweight baggage
If your baggage is lost or damaged while in the airline's control, the airline must compensate you up to $2,300 to replace lost or damaged items. However, they don't have to pay if your old or poor-quality suitcase falls apart while being handled.

If your baggage is delayed, the airline must compensate you up to $2,300 for items you need until your luggage is returned, unless they take reasonable measures to avoid the issue. Be prepared to provide receipts for replacement items to ensure that the expenses you claim are reasonable.

You must submit a claim to your airline in writing for delayed, lost or damaged luggage within 7 days of receiving damaged luggage, 21 days after receiving delayed luggage, and as soon as possible if your baggage was considered lost.

Travel Tips
If your flight is delayed or cancelled:
  1. Check your airline's website for notifications

  2. Take note of what the airline says caused the delay or cancellation, or ask the airline representative what you are entitled to

  3. Keep copies of your ticket and receipts of any meals, hotels, or taxis connected to the delay or cancellation

  4. Keep track of how much time has passed since your original departure time and when you arrive

  5. Make a complaint as soon as possible – although you have one year from the date of the incident to make your claim
If your baggage has been lost, damaged or delayed:
  1. Make a list of items in your luggage and be able to provide a detailed description

  2. Keep your baggage ticket and details

  3. File a written claim with your airline within the time limits listed above
Air travel during the shoulder season is less crowded, and therefore there are generally fewer issues stemming from delays and cancelled flights. Once the Christmas holiday season arrives, the same problems will no doubt reappear, so it's important to know what to do to protect your rights and receive compensation.

Bon Voyage!