Long-awaited regulations for Canadians who encounter pesky flight delays and cancellations are on the horizon.
On Dec. 15, the second phase of the so-called passenger “bill of rights” will come into effect, ushering in a host of new protections for inconvenienced travellers.
The big-ticket item — and one of the more complex changes — is what passengers are owed when their flight is delayed or cancelled.
While the changes are still a few weeks away, protections already exist for Canadians flying abroad.
Canadians travelling within, to and from all 28 countries in the European Union are eligible for compensation for travel setbacks under the EU’s passenger rights laws. (The only exclusion is EU-bound flights operated by a non-EU airline.)
If your European flight is cancelled, the airline has to offer a choice between a ticket refund, rebooking the final destination at the next available opportunity, or rebooking for a later date.
Passengers can collect anywhere between €250 and €600 ($366 to $879 CAD) for cancellations and delays of more than three hours.
How much is awarded depends on the length of the flight. For example, flights more than 1,500 kilometres within the EU sit around €400 ($586 CAD) while flights 1,500 kilometres of less are approximately €250 ($366 CAD). However, amounts can be reduced by 50 per cent if the airline is rerouted, the law states.
“The EU has the gold standard of air passenger protection, striking the balance between the interests of passengers and airlines,” Gabor Lukacs, the founder of Air Passenger Rights, told Global News.
“The rules provide clear and enforceable protection to passengers… There are no legal loopholes for airlines to avoid paying compensation.”
The EU’s regulations aren’t going anywhere when Canada’s come into effect next month. So, in some cases, travellers can choose which set of rules will result in a bigger payout.
Under Canada’s upcoming rules, if a flight delay is more than three hours, within the airline’s control and not safety-related, the airline must fork out compensation.
How much is allotted depends on the length of the delay and size of the airline, but the Dec. 15 suite of rules gives travellers the power to choose the kind of compensation they prefer: cash refund or travel voucher.
If the flight is cancelled, the new rules require airlines to not only refund the ticket but offer “compensation for the inconvenience.” For large airlines, that’s up to $400 and for small airlines, that’s up to $125.
When it comes to delays, Canadians on large carriers will be entitled to anywhere from $400 for delays of three to six hours, to $1,000 for delays of nine hours or more. Small airlines, like Swoop and Porter Airlines Inc., sit at anywhere from $125 to $500.
So, as of Dec. 15, a Canadian who encounters delays on a flight from Calgary to London, for example, may be eligible for compensation under either the EU’s rules or Canada’s.
But “the public should pay attention to the eligibility criteria” between Canadian and European air travel laws and “not dollar amounts,” said Lukacs.
The EU, however, offers something specific that Canada’s doesn’t.
“Under the EU rules, ‘maintenance issues’ is not a valid excuse for refusing to pay compensation for delays or cancellations,” he said. “Therefore, passengers may be able to seek compensation under the EU rules in many cases where the Canadian rules provide for no compensation.”
In the U.S., laws are not as extensive. While there are compensation rules surrounding overbooking, compensation for delayed and cancelled flights falls under the Montreal Convention, which allows passengers to file a claim for expenses. If the claim is denied, there are court options.
The problem with Canada’s new suite of rules, according to Lukacs, is that there is no guarantee that airlines will comply.
“The rules contain no real obligations for the airlines to pay.”
“So, what’s left? The net effect is that airlines will pay compensation for cancellations and delays only when they voluntarily feel so — or when the media covers an incident.”
The first phase of Canada’s air passenger protections, which took effect on July 15, focused primarily on remedying travel mishaps like tarmac delays, lost baggage and overbooking.