Canada’s Airline Passenger Protection Regulations set out rules that airlines must follow, including compensation for travel delays and how to make a claim.
You will likely recall the extreme winter weather conditions across Canada in December 2022 and January 2023. Winter storms affected the entire country, including major airports in British Columbia, Ontario and Quebec. Because of this, airlines struggled with flight delays and cancellations that left travelers stranded during the peak holiday travel season.
The aviation sector is also still reeling from the effects of the pandemic, including staffing issues. A dramatic resurgence in the demand for air travel has made it challenging for airlines to deliver.
As we approach the summer, another busy travel season, let’s look closer at what happened over the holiday season as well as the rules in place for compensating travelers for delays and cancellations.
The perfect storm
Despite a travel advisory to refrain from travelling due to the impending weather in December 2022, Canadians faced unprecedent travel problems during the last holiday travel season. The air travel disruption forced people to book additional stays at hotels and incur expenses for which they had not budgeted. Airlines faced pressure to compensate passengers for their financial losses and inconvenience.
News stories and media coverage were abundant. For example, we heard of Sunwing passengers stranded abroad in Cancun, Mexico. The winter storms did not allow the airline to move crew and planes to different airports. As Sunwing repeatedly delayed and pushed ahead flights, passengers grew desperate. The number of flight delays eventually caused a fundamental breakdown in the airline’s communication of rescheduled flights. The chaos resulted in many people sleeping in airports and mistrust in the airline. The Canadian Transportation Agency (CTA) fined Sunwing $126,000 for 36 violations that took place in December 2022.
WestJet cancelled approximately 1600 between December 2022 and mid-January 2023. The airline worked to lessen the travel disruption by cancelling flights proactively. WestJet informed passengers of cancellations before their trip began, which prevented chaos at airports.
Air Canada also experienced flight disruptions and cancellations. They allowed travelers to voluntarily change their flight free of charge up to one hour prior to departure (with some exceptions).
The House of Commons transport committee is looking into what happened to prevent similar situations from arising again. At a hearing, WestJet shared it would like third parties to share the costs of compensating passengers, including airports, navigation, security, border control, ground handlers, and more. Transport Minister Omar Alghabra acknowledged the unacceptable treatment of passengers and called for a review of protocols.
In September 2022, the federal government changed the Air Passenger Protection Regulations. These changes show the government is moving toward a more passenger-friendly position, which places more pressure on the airlines to deliver the best service possible. The CTA is now encouraging all Canadians to “know your rights”.
An example of passenger rights is alternate arrangements. Airlines must provide a refund or rebooking, at the passenger’s choice, when there is a flight cancellation or a lengthy delay due to something outside the airline’s control. This applies to all flights to, from and within Canada. These regulations also identify the costs to be refunded and the method for a refund.
Another right is compensation for delay or cancellation. When a flight is delayed, large carriers must pay the passenger for inconvenience as follows:
- $400 if a passenger’s flight arrives at the destination three or more hours, but less than six hours, later than originally scheduled
- $700 if a passenger’s flight arrives at the destination six or more hours, but less than nine hours, later than originally scheduled
- $1,000 if a passenger’s flight arrives at the destination nine or more hours later than originally scheduled
- $400 if a passenger chooses a refund instead of rebooking
The CTA’s website provides a complete overview of these regulations.
How to make a claim for compensation
Passengers can file a claim online through the airline’s website compensation claims form. Travelers have one year after an incident (flight delay or cancellation) to make a claim.
The airline must respond within 30 days of receiving the claim. The airline’s response to the claim will be either payment or an explanation as to why they do not have to compensate the passenger.
Passengers can also file a complaint online directly with the airline if they receive no response or are not satisfied with the response.
The Air Passenger Protection Regulations require airlines to compensate travelers for delays and disruptions. Recent changes seek to better support travelers moving forward.
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DISCLAIMER The information in this article was correct at time of publishing. The law may have changed since then. The views expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of LawNow or the Centre for Public Legal Education Alberta.