Changes to air passengers’ rights are now in effect. Here’s what you should know

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Next phase of air passenger rights rolls out
WATCH: Next phase of air passenger rights rolls out – Dec 14, 2019

The second phase of air passenger protections from the Federal government are now in effect in Canada — just in time for holiday travel.

In mid-July, regulators enacted the first phase, which focused primarily on remedying travel mishaps like tarmac delays, lost baggage and overbooking.

Now, the second round of rules are in place. This phase includes regulations for compensation for delays and cancellations including re-booking and refunds, and outlines where children can be seated on planes.

The Air Passenger Protection Regulations set out minimum standards for all carriers to follow and requirements to help the public understand their rights, but rely on travellers filing complaints with airlines or, as a last resort, the Canadian Transportation Agency (CTA).

If you, like many Canadians, will be travelling this holiday season, here’s what you should know about the new rules.

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Flight cancellations and delays

According to the Air Passenger Protection Regulations, if flight cancellations or delays are within the airline’s control and not related to safety, the airline will be required to compensate inconvenienced passengers.

Delays resulting from weather or mechanical issues are exempted.

The amount a passenger will be compensated is based on the length of the delay the passenger endured before they reached their destination, and depends on whether the flight in question was on a large or small airline.

Here’s a breakdown of how the compensation works:

If a passenger’s ticket is refunded, the small airlines must provide a minimum compensation of $125. Large carriers must provide passengers with a minimum of $400.

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Filing a complaint

According to the rules, passengers have a year to file a request with the airline for compensation.

Once the airline receives the request, they will have 30 days to provide the compensation or explain why they will not pay.

Previously, airlines have offered vouchers, rebates or other forms of compensation to inconvenienced passengers due to flight delays.

Under the new rules, airlines are still able to offer these alternatives, but they must be of higher value than the monetary compensation that is required, and can never expire.

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And, under the new regulations, passengers must be given the option to receive monetary compensation for the delay and “always have the right to select what they prefer.”

Standard of treatment

Also included in the bill are rules regarding a minimum “standards of treatment” that airlines must provide passengers.

The rules state that after a delay of more than two hours, the airline must provide food and drinks in “reasonable quantities” and a “means of communication” such a free WiFi.

If a passenger has to wait overnight, the airline must offer a hotel or comparable accommodation, and transportation to the location free of charge.

Re-booking and refunds

The new regulations also includes rules for re-booking and refunding passengers.

According to the bill, for all types of flight delays or cancellations, the airline operating the flight has to ensure passengers “complete their itinerary,” and “reach their final destination.”

READ MORE: Payouts for flight delays coming soon to Canada — Here’s what to know

The rules say if a flight is delayed by three hours, the airline must re-book the passenger on its next available flight.

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If the situation is within the airline’s control, and if that next available flight would not leave within nine hours of the original departure time, a large airline must re-book the passenger on a flight operated by any airline.

If a delay or cancellation is within the airline’s control, and the passenger chooses not to re-book because they no longer need to travel, they are entitled to a ticket refund and compensation.

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Customers frustrated with Air Canada’s new reservation system

In this case, a small airline would be required to pay a minimum of $125. Large airlines would be on the hook for a minimum of $400.

If the disruption is not within the airline’s control and the airline’s next available flight is not within 48 hours, the carrier is required to re-book the passenger on another airline.

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Seating children

There are also rules which govern where children can sit on airplanes.

According to the regulations, airlines are now required to seat children under the age of 14 near their parent, guardian or tutor at no additional charge.

The rules say a child four-years-old or younger must be seated adjacent to their parent, guardian or tutor’s seat.

A child who is between the ages of five and 11 must be seated in the same row, separated by no more than one seat from their parent, guardian or tutor.

If a child is 12 or 13-years-old, they must be seated no further than one row from their parent, guardian or tutor.

Airlines are also required to have a policy regarding unaccompanied minors which would prohibit children under the age of five from travelling without a parent or “accompanying person” who is at least 16-years-old.

‘Smoke and mirrors’

Airlines are required to follow the new regulations “as soon as they come into force.” If an airline does not comply, it could be on the hook for $25,000 per incident.

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According to the rules, if a passenger and airline are unable to settle a dispute, the individual can file a complaint directly to the CTA.

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Passengers on board American Airlines plane that skidded off runway describe incident

In an interview with Global News’ Rob Breakenridge, air passenger rights advocate Gabor Lukacs said while the new regulations appear to be a positive thing, they are not “meaningful” changes and are just an example of “deception of the public by the government.”

He says the rules are “shortchanging” passengers” and make it “very easy” for airlines not to pay inconvenienced customers.

“The new rules allow the airlines simply to say when you’re stranded — delayed/cancelled flights — that ‘oh it was due to weather, or it was because of maintenance issues’ and then refuse to pay.”

He says most of the common causes of flight delays are not covered by the new rules.

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“The $1,000 is good for making headlines, but they forget to tell the public that the eligibility criteria are such that in most cases you will never meet it,” Lukacs said, calling the regulations “smoke and mirrors.”

LISTEN: Air passenger rights advocate Gabor Lukacs joins Rob Breakenridge to discuss what the new rules will mean for air travel customers

“How [is] getting no compensation by a regulation is better than getting no compensation without regulations?” he said.

Lukacs said when it comes to enforcing regulations, lawmakers need to look at what is “practical.”

He says Canada should adopt what he calls “gold standard” of passenger rights in place in Europe.

If a flight is cancelled in Europe, the airline must offer passengers a choice between a ticket refund, re-booking the final destination at the next available opportunity, or re-booking for a later date.

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“I would love for Canada to simply adopt the European gold standard,” he said. “I’m kind of perplexed why Canada needs to re-invent the wheel here.”

—With a file from Rachael D’Amore and The Canadian Press

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