Editor’s note: This story has been updated with the correct timeframe for receiving compensation for a cancelled flight.
Air Canada’s sudden cut to its summer flight schedule fuelled another chaotic long weekend at Canadian airports and left many customers stranded and frustrated.
Canadian airlines and airports alike claimed top spots globally for flight delays over the Canada Day long weekend.
Air Canada, which announced late last week it was cutting 15 per cent of its summer schedule, or roughly 9,500 flights, ranked No. 1 in delays on Saturday and Sunday as two-thirds of its flights took off late, according to tracking service FlightAware. WestJet and its low-budget carrier Swoop were also in the top five for delays worldwide.
The Canadian Transportation Association told Global News on Wednesday that it received 2,382 complaints — covering all airlines — from passengers over the course of May and June.
This figure isn’t unprecedented, with the preceding months seeing similar volumes of complaints. But the CTA noted that consumers typically try to resolve their concerns with the airline itself first before coming to the transportation watchdog, so it receives complaints on a lag.
Gabor Lukacs, who runs a Facebook group to help passengers resolve disputes with airlines and regulators in Canada’s travel industry, says he and his team have been inundated with complaints in recent days.
“We have been overwhelmed with requests for help, and unfortunately, we are not able to get all of them,” he told Global News on Monday. “The onslaught of problems that the airlines are creating for the public is just tremendous.”
Though staffing shortages at Canadian airports have contributed to long lineups and delays for months, Lukacs puts the blame for recent turbulence squarely on the airlines themselves.
He said what’s playing out across Air Canada’s network is similar to when an airline might overbook a single flight, selling 110 tickets on a 100-seat plane, for instance.
“We are seeing something like that but on a much larger scale,” he said.
He claims carriers have been too ambitious and knowingly booked beyond what they had a capacity to sell, and are now leaving customers frustrated at the gates.
What can you do to make sure you’re adequately compensated for a delayed or cancelled flight? We’ve got the answers for you here.
What am I owed if Air Canada cancels my flight?
Air Canada must refund passengers if their flight is cancelled, but depending on when the carrier let you know about the disruption, you could be owed more.
The Air Passenger Protection Regulations (APPR), which took force in 2019, require compensation — distinct from refunds — of between $400 and $1,000 for a cancellation or significant delay that is “within the carrier’s control,” should the traveller opt to reject the rebooking, and in some cases when they accept it.
In an email to affected customers last week, Air Canada CEO Michael Rousseau pegged the schedule changes on shortfalls in the “global aviation system,” calling them “unprecedented and unforeseen.”
But those arguments don’t hold water to Lukacs.
“Passengers have to always be mindful that this is 100 per cent within the carrier’s control. No question,” he said.
Global News reached out to Air Canada to confirm whether it felt passengers would qualify for such compensation. The airline confirmed it will “abide by its APPR obligations” without saying whether it felt the disruption was within its control.
How long was your delay? When were you told?
Under federal regulations, passengers are owed alternate travel arrangements or a refund — traveller’s choice — if they were informed more than two weeks in advance that their flight was cancelled or delayed by three hours or more for reasons within the carrier’s control.
If the trip was cancelled within 14 days or less, passengers are owed $1,000 for a cancellation or delay of nine hours or more, and between $400 and $700 for delays of three to nine hours.
A passenger who opts to reject a rebooking for a flight cancelled within 14 days of departure should receive $400 in compensation, on top of a refund.
The airline must aim to rebook passengers on a flight on its network that takes off within nine hours of the original departure time. If it can’t, it must offer to book them on another airline network “as soon as feasible,” free of charge, according to the passenger rights charter.
For international travel, Lukacs notes you can also get reimbursed for out-of-pocket expenses and other losses such as wages lost due to the disruption. This coverage falls under the Montreal Convention, a globally agreed upon set of rules for airline compensation.
What if your baggage is lost, delayed or damaged?
The CTA put out a statement Tuesday evening reminding passengers of their rights should their baggage be stuck or damaged in the course of travel.
Firstly, it’s important to document everything that was in your luggage should anything go wrong, as you may have to justify the cost of what was lost.
Airlines must compensate passengers up to $2,300 for the contents of a bag that is lost or damaged while in their control, and up to the same amount for any items that you need while your baggage is delayed. The CTA noted the airline might be absolved of these obligations if it took all reasonable measures to avoid such a delay.
Standard baggage fees as well as costs for oversized luggage, for example, must be refunded if your baggage is lost, delayed or damaged as well.
Claims must be filed to the airline within seven days of receiving damaged luggage, within 21 days after receiving baggage that was delayed or as soon as possible if your luggage was lost or delayed more than three weeks.
These timelines are important, the CTA notes, as the airline could deny your claim if you miss the window to apply.
What if the airline won’t pay?
If you can’t get through to an airline to request your refund or compensation, there are a few other paths you can take to recoup the costs.
Lukacs says that if an airline does not confirm your refund or payments within 30 days, proceed “quickly” to small claims court in order to expedite the process.
In cases where an airline is refusing to refund, a credit card chargeback is a useful “last resort,” he adds. This would see the credit card backer reimburse you directly for what ended up being an erroneous charge.
Lukacs says the pressure to fix lagging issues at airports and on airlines should not be on the carriers themselves, but on the federal government and the CTA.
He argues that airlines get away with poor customer service and fail to live up to the letter of the law because they know they can get away with subpar behaviour.
Transportation Minister Omar Alghabra could direct the CTA to take stricter enforcement energy, or the government could step in more directly to solve problems at airports and compel airlines to pay up in full when their plans go awry.
“I suspect the government will do absolutely nothing. And that is where the problem lies,” Lukacs says.
Global News reached out to both Alghabra and the CTA for comment Monday.
The transport minister’s office pointed to the new protections coming into effect Sept. 8 — too late for summer travellers — as providing “clarity” for passengers affected by flights.
Those regulations will require airlines to offer a rebooking or refund within 30 days if they cannot provide a new reservation within 48 hours of a flight cancellation or “lengthy delay.”
The ministry said enforcement of all regulations under the APPR fall to the CTA. The agency said in a short email to Global News that it was “seized” by the current situation and it was not able to provide comment on Monday.
— with files from Global News’s Saba Aziz, The Canadian Press