Airlines could soon be forced to pay passengers in cash for delays over three hours and re-book them on competing companies after nine.
But those proposed new rules won’t be in place for the winter travel season.
Transport Minister Marc Garneau unveiled proposed new rules on Monday that he says will offer stronger protection to Canadians when they board any flight departing or arriving in Canada, and help to prevent the kind of problems that have made headlines in recent years.
The proposals will eventually form part of a new bill of rights for air passengers and come after the government opened consultations for what Canadians would like to see in such new regulations in May 2018.
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Now, the proposals resulting from those consultations will get another 60 days of consultation for airlines, passengers and stakeholders to weigh in.
Garneau said the government will announce its final version of the new rules in the spring with the aim of having it in place for the 2019 summer travel season.
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Under the proposed rules laid out on Monday, airlines will no longer be allowed to charge passengers who want to ensure they can sit next to their children.
Passengers will be entitled to cash compensation of $400 after a delay of three hours, with the amount of compensation going up to $700 and $1,000 at the six-hour and nine-hour marks, though those amounts will be smaller for small airlines.
As well, after two hours of delays the airlines will have to provide food and drink to passengers, and an electronic means of communication such as free WiFi.
Once the delays hit the nine-hour mark, airlines will be required to re-book passengers on flights with competing airlines.
However, those rules will only apply in cases where the delays are deemed to be the responsibility of the airline.
For example, that means passengers impacted by overbooking would get compensation.
Those stuck sitting on the tarmac due to a blizzard, which is not the responsibility of the airline, would not.
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Delays due to mechanical issues will also not be deemed eligible for compensation.
But what exactly that means is not clear, and one expert said that could lead to problems for passengers down the line.
“By and large the carriers will get to decide what a maintenance issue is,” said Ian Jack, spokesperson for the Canadian Automobile Association, which represents more than six million travellers of all kinds, including airlines.
“We think there should be a tighter definition.”
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Jack also said the CAA will be advocating during the next round of consultations for the Canadian Transportation Agency to get the power to conduct audits of airlines to ensure the causes they claim for the delays are in fact the real causes.
Allowing that could prevent airlines from trying to disguise delays they are responsible for as mechanical issues, in order to get out of having to compensate passengers.
He said they also plan to push for the government to set out a clear definition of what exactly is a mechanical issue.
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The proposed new rules come after several high-profile cases of airlines being accused of mistreating passengers.
On July 31, 2017, one flight from Rome and one from Brussels sat for five and six hours respectively on the tarmac in Ottawa without letting passengers get off.
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One of them ran out of fuel during the wait.
That shut down the air conditioning system and at hearings before the Canadian Transportation Agency in August 2017, passengers described sweltering temperatures on board that caused mounting tensions and a vomiting child.
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One passenger ended up calling 911.
Air Transat, which was operating both flights, was fined $295,000 and ordered to change its rules for letting passengers off aircraft during delays.
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