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Overbooked flights, lost luggage and plane delays. What are your passenger rights?

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Navigating a busy airport during this time of year is a headache, but add a cancelled flight, lost luggage or plane delays and it’s sure to cause a holiday nightmare.

READ MORE: Here’s the best time to book your holiday travel

Thursday is expected to be one of the busiest travel days of the year, according to officials at Toronto’s Pearson International Airport, and the holiday traffic should continue until the end of the month.

If you’re travelling during the chaotic time, here is a breakdown of your passenger rights if your flight is overbooked, delayed or your luggage has not arrived.

WATCH: Airline travel tips during the busy holiday season

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Overbooked flight

Airlines overbook flights in order to calculate a percentage of the people will not show up for the flight. It’s a perfectly legal practice in Canada and is still done during the holidays.

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READ MORE: What are your rights on an overbooked flight?

“The reason is that it is more profitable to overbook and pay denied boarding compensation from time to time than to not overbook,” air passenger rights advocate Gabor Lukacs said.

WATCH: Man forced out of seat and dragged down aisle on overbooked United flight

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Air Canada 

If an Air Canada flight is overbooked, staff will first ask volunteers to give up seats in exchange for compensation.

If there are no volunteers, Air Canada will select people to give up their seats. This is based on “boarding priority,” which refers to how much a passenger paid for the ticket or whether he/she is a loyalty member.

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READ MORE: Canada to unveil legislation to address overbooked flights

“Passengers most likely to be bumped are infrequent flyers looking for the best fares with no loyalty to any airline,” airline expert Fred Lazar said. This way the airline has very little to lose by inconveniencing these passengers, he said.

Here is what you are entitled to:

  • $200, $400, or $800, depending on the length of the delay after being bumped.
  • A seat on another flight without additional charges.
  • Cash in the same amount if you choose to no longer travel.

WATCH: Air Canada ordered to boost bumping compensation

West Jet

While WestJet does not overbook its flights, the airline leaves open the possibility of flights being “oversold.”

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In this circumstance, customers will be asked to volunteer to be accommodated on the next available flight, based on check-in time and identified passenger requirements.

READ MORE: How one Delta airlines passenger turned multiple overbooked flights into $11,000

Following this, the passenger denied boarding will be placed on the next available flight and issued a form of compensation “acceptable to the passenger.”

If you are bumped from a flight and it is delayed you can get cash compensation for up to 400 per cent of the airfare.

Porter Airlines

As with Air Canada and West Jet, Porter Airlines will first ask for volunteers to give up their seats and then “the airline will deny boarding to other persons in accordance with its particular boarding priority.”

READ MORE: Stop bumping passengers from overbooked flights, Ottawa tells airlines

Passengers denied boarding are entitled to:

  • $200, $400, or $800, depending on the length of the delay after being bumped
  • A refund for the ticket in cash compensation.
  • An alternative flight at no extra cost.
  • Demand to be booked on a flight with another carrier if they choose.

Delayed flights

If your flight is delayed you can receive compensation depending on the airline and what the scenario is.

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Air Canada

Two hours or more: Air Canada will change your reservation to another date within the week at no cost (provided it’s available).

Four hours or more: You will receive a meal voucher if the delay is caused by circumstances within Air Canada’s control (can’t be weather-related).

READ MORE: Flight delays: What are your rights as a passenger?

Eight hours or more: You will receive a meal voucher, transportation to and from the airport as well as hotel accommodation, again if the circumstances are 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.”

West Jet

Three or more hours: You will get a meal voucher.

Eight or more hours: You will receive a meal and hotel voucher, plus airport transfers if the delay is not in your home city.

If you are already on the plane and the delay exceeds 90 minutes, you are entitled to drinks and snacks (if you’re on a tarmac in Canada).

WATCH: Orchestra members put on impromptu concert onboard delayed flight

Porter Airlines

A Porter Airlines spokesperson said if the flight is delayed due to uncontrollable reasons (such as weather) then expenses are not covered. If a flight is delayed due to a controllable issue with the airline, then Porter will provide accommodations.

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READ MORE: Delayed flight to St. John’s turns into impromptu kitchen party at Toronto airport

According to 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.

Delayed or lost luggage

Your luggage is “delayed” if it’s been missing for 21 days or less; it’s “lost” if it’s been more than 21 days.

“The airline has obligation to deliver the luggage to the passenger,” Lukacs said. “The airline is liable until it is delivered.”

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Delayed bags

Lukacs said until the luggage is in your hands you can buy “reasonable expenses,” meaning it has to be necessary for the purpose of your travel. Example: buying a toothbrush, shampoo or a tuxedo if you were heading to a wedding.

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READ MORE: Ontario woman spends 18 days in France with no luggage

The airline is liable for your “reasonable expenses.” On domestic itineraries within Canada the prices are:

  • $1,500 on Air Canada,
  • $1,800 on Porter.
  • $2,000 (approx.) on WestJet.

Lost bags

If your baggage has been missing for more than 21 days, the airline is liable for the entire value of the bag and its contents, according to Lukacs.

Passenger bill of rights

Although it’s not going to be passed in time for the busy holiday travel season, Transport Minister Marc Garneau has been pushing a passenger bill of rights, which will give travellers a better idea of when airlines will have to compensate them.

READ MORE: Garneau, senators at odds over air passenger rights bill delay

The legislation would set rules and fines for airlines in situations where a passenger has been bumped from an overbooked flight, their luggage was lost or damaged or they endured an overly long wait on the tarmac – but only when the carrier is responsible.

WATCH: Changes to airline regulations coming for Canadian travelers

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The bill has currently made its way to the Senate transport committee. The Liberals have been pushing senators to approve the bill by the end of the month so an air passenger bill of rights could be in place early next year.

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— With files from Global News’  and the Canadian Press

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