Flight delays: What are your rights as a passenger?

What are you entitled to as a passenger when you encounter a flight delay? Well, it depends on which airline you’re flying with and what the scenario is. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Aaron Vincent Elkaim

TORONTO — Dealing with a flight delay can be one of the most frustrating experiences for travellers. So what exactly are you entitled to as a passenger? Well, it depends on which airline you’re flying with and what the scenario is.

Here’s a look at some of your options.

West Jet:

If your WestJet flight is delayed within Canada, you are entitled to:

  • A meal voucher if the delay is three or more hours.
  • Meal and hotel vouchers, plus airport transfers if the delay is eight or more hours and you’re not in your home city.
  • Drinks and snacks (when possible) if you’re already on the plane and the delay occurs; Option to disembark if the delay exceeds 90 minutes. Different rules apply if you’re on a tarmack in the U.S.

Air Canada:

If your Air Canada flight is delayed, you are entitled to:

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  • Change your reservation at no cost to another date within the next week (subject to availability) if your delay is two hours or more. You can also change your return flight for free at this point.
  • A meal voucher if the delay is four hours or more and the delay is caused by circumstances within Air Canada’s control (i.e. not weather).
  • Meal vouchers, transportation to and from the airport as well as hotel accommodation if your delay is eight hours or more. However, this only applies for delays within Air Canada’s control. For those outside Air Canada’s control, you will be provided “with hotel contact information where you can obtain valued customer rates.”

The policies are an update from 2013, when the company said it had “no set written policy for handling these sorts of problems” and operated on “a case-by-case basis when dealing with them.”


Sunwing’s policies also appear to have been revamped in the last two years. Previously, compensation was dealt with on a “case-by-case basis” and there was no compensation provided for delays less than eight hours.

Now, Sunwing passengers who are delayed can expect the following:

  • “A beverage, meal or snack, based on the time of day and available services in the airport” if the delay is four to six hours long.
  • If your delay is six to 11 hours, “to compensate you for missed holiday time, you will also receive a $75 travel voucher, per person, toward future travel aboard Sunwing Airlines.” You can also apply that voucher towards an excursion if you’re flying to Mexico, the Caribbean or Central America.
  • If your flight is delayed more than 8 hours, and the delay involves an overnight stay, Sunwing will take care of your hotel accommodations that night, as well as provide you with a meal and round-trip airport transfers. Or you can choose taxi vouchers to travel home if you prefer.
  • For delays of 12 hours or more, you will be able to choose between a $150 travel voucher per passenger or the option to cancel your holiday and receive a full refund.


A Porter spokesperson said the airline has “policies in place to help mitigate costs for certain situations.”

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“When a flight is cancelled for uncontrollable reasons (e.g. weather) expenses are not covered, unless the passenger is stuck overnight mid-connection. If a flight is cancelled due to a controllable issue with the airline, we will provide accommodations.”

According to the Porter’s conditions of carriage (section 16.1), passengers can try to seek reimbursement for expenses resulting from delays by submitting a written claim, accompanied by proof.


There was no Expedia spokesperson available for comment, but in 2013 the company’s vice president and managing director, Sean Shannon, told us the following:

“When a customer books a flight through, the contractual obligation is between the ticket issuer (in this case, the airline) and the customer. As such, the customer is bound to the rules and regulations imposed by the airlines as they relate to flight delays and regulations. These conditions vary by airline.”

To avoid disappointment, encourages customers to familiarize themselves with the terms and conditions imposed by the airlines before they book. They also encourage travellers to check the status of their flight before heading to the airport. Should customers encounter a flight delay, they may contact customer support agents who are available 24/7 to provide assistance as required. If a delay occurs once the person has checked in, the airline has full control of the booking and is, therefore, best equipped at handling the reservation. Nonetheless, should a customer contact, the company will advocate with the airline on the customer’s behalf.

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In general:

There is no legislation or rule in Canada stating that airlines or travel companies legally have to do anything for you if a flight is delayed.

Every airline has a “Contract of Carriage,” which must be on the company’s website. Passengers are advised to read it and check flight delay policies before booking.

If a passenger feels that a carrier has not complied with its terms and conditions, a complaint can be filed with the Canadian Transportation Agency. However, the passenger first needs to try and address the matter directly with the carrier.

If that doesn’t work, and if the CTA finds the carrier didn’t fulfill its obligations to passengers, the agency can order the carrier to compensate passengers for out-of-pocket expenses incurred as a result of the delay.

It cannot, however, order compensation to passengers for their pain and suffering or loss of enjoyment; nor can it impose penalties, or order the carrier to compensate every passenger on a flight for failing to follow its own terms and conditions.

So before you book, read the fine print, and remember that you usually get what you pay for. Also, if a delay does occur, try to be patient with staff and approach them to request hotel or meal vouchers if the delay is long enough.

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You can learn more about your flight rights on the Transport Canada website.

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