Air travel for Canadians got a little sweeter on Monday as a host of new protections came into play, but travellers will have to wait five more months to see the full picture.
The first phase of the so-called passenger “bill of rights” focused primarily on remedying travel mishaps like tarmac delays, lost or damaged baggage, and overbooking. It also made airlines obligated to communicate more clearly with passengers during delays and cancellations.
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Transportation Minister Marc Garneau said that while he believes the majority of “non-respect” of passengers will be dealt with by airlines, the new regulations will reinforce what rights a traveller has after purchasing a flight ticket.
However, regulations surrounding compensation for flight cancellations and seating for families have been reserved until December.
Here’s what’s on hold until then:
Compensation for delays
One of the more complex changes to air traveller rights surrounds what a passenger is owed when a flight is delayed.
By Dec. 15, airlines that cancel flights due to circumstances within their control, which are not safety related, will have to cough up cash for inconvenienced passengers.
The amount of money offered to ticketholders is calculated based on the length of the delay and the size of the airline.
Large carriers, such as Air Canada and WestJet, will see the largest bills.
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If a flight delay drains you of three to six hours, you could receive $400. If your trip is set back by six to nine hours, you’re looking at a $700 return. Anything over nine hours could result in a $1,000 payday.
For small airlines, like Swoop and Porter Airlines Inc., compensation ranges from $125 for three to six hours delays and $500 for anything nine hours or more.
It may sound seamless, but it’s up to the passenger to make the compensation happen.
Passengers who encounter a delay within these parameters will be required to file a claim with the airline, which would then have 30 days to respond with either a payment or a rejection.
Commonly, air travellers faced with disruption are offered a voucher for future flights with the same airline that inconvenienced them, but the December regulations let the consumer decide.
“Airlines will have to offer passengers this compensation in monetary form,” the Canadian Transportation Agency outlines on their website.
“They could also offer passengers alternative forms of compensation (e.g. vouchers or rebates), but passengers will always have the right to select what they prefer.”
If the airline offers the traveller a voucher, for example, the regulations require that the amount offered be more than that of a cash refund and cannot expire.
When your flight is cancelled
Once a delay hits the three-hour mark, it is the airline’s responsibility to help a passenger complete their trip.
The CTA says, regardless of the circumstances, the proposed reroute “must be reasonable.”
For example, if an airline delays a flight for a reason “within their control,” whether for safety purposes or otherwise, airlines must rebook a passenger in the same class – even if that means rebooking on a competing airline.
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If the available rebook options don’t meet the needs, the regulations require airlines to offer the passenger a ticket refund and “compensation for the inconvenience.”
For small airlines that’s $125, and for larger airlines that’s $400.
Things are a little less generous when flights are cancelled for uncontrollable reasons, like poor weather, strikes by unions or international security threats.
Large airlines will be required to rebook passengers, but if the next available flight with that airline doesn’t take off within 48 hours of the cancellation, the airline is obliged to seek back up from another airline.
Travelling with kids
In December, airlines will be expected to help seat kids under the age of 14 near their parent or guardian. Passengers can sometimes choose seats in advance, but that can come at an additional cost.
“(It’s) a very important fact that some families want to be with their children, close to their children,” Garneau said Monday during a news conference “Children under 14 will be able to sit with them at no extra charge.”
The seating arrangement rules depend on the child’s age – the younger the kid, the closer they must be.
Any child under the age of five must be seated adjacent to their parent. Children aged five to 11 should be seated in the same row, but it isn’t mandatory for them to be seated beside their parent. For children aged 12 and 13, the regulations say that they should be seated no more than a row away from the parent.
Why wait until December?
Garneau previously said the two-phase rollout was intended to give airlines time to comply with the new bill of rights.
Following consultations, some airlines complained that they would have difficulty implementing the more complex requirements related to flight delays and separations by July.
Though many of the new regulations are in line with what major airlines have already been doing, some carriers have pushed back on the changes.
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Both Air Canada and Porter Airlines are among the carriers seeking to axe the new rules. The airlines have asked the Federal Court of Appeal to quash the regulations, saying they violate international standards.
Airlines that don’t follow the regulations set in place in July and in December could face penalties of up to $25,000.
“In a majority of cases, we hope that the airlines would recognize that they have not lived up to their obligations when someone has purchased a ticket.” Garneau said.
“If for some reason the airline says ‘we don’t agree,’ the option still remains for the passenger to go to the Canadian Transportation Agency and the agency website explains how you submit your complaint.”
— With files from the Canadian Press and Reuters
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