What you need to know about Canada's new air passenger 'bill of rights'

What you need to know about Canada’s new air passenger rights

The regulations outline specific conditions that entitle travellers to compensation, and even a full refund of their airfare.

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Photo by Chris Brignola on Unsplash

Passenger rights in Canada have been a sore spot for travellers for many years. Historically, if you were delayed for reasons within the airline’s control, you weren’t entitled to any compensation. As you can imagine, this was frustrating for many passengers who had their travel plans interrupted.

That all changed in May of 2019, when the Canadian Transportation Agency’s Air Passenger Protection Regulations came into play. These new regulations are meant to provide Canadians with compensation when there are airline delays, as well as some basic rights to make their journeys slightly more comfortable. Airlines are required to follow these new rules—but, for your own protection, you should also know what you’re entitled to.


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Compensation if you are denied boarding

Under the new passenger bill of rights, if you have a valid ticket, yet are denied boarding due to reasons within the airline’s control (for example, overbooking) but not required for safety, then you’ll be entitled to compensation. How much you’ll get depends on the length of the delay when you reach your final destination:

Length of delay Compensation amount (CAD)
Up to 6 hours $900
6 to 9 hours $1,800
9 hours or more $2,400

The compensation must be paid as soon as you’re informed, or within 48 hours if it’s not possible to issue right away. For those not in a rush, you could benefit from these new rules by volunteering to give up your seat in exchange for vouchers you can apply to future travel, and other benefits. The airlines will also have to rebook you onto another flight at no extra charge.

Delays on the tarmac

If you’ve ever been stuck on the tarmac, then you know the frustration is real. Under the new rules, you must be allowed access to the washrooms, proper ventilation, food and drink, and the ability to talk to people outside of the plane. In other words, they can’t force you to stay in your seat and have your phones in airplane mode during tarmac delays. If the delay lasts three hours at a Canadian airport, then the airline must return to the gate so passengers can disembark. There is an additional 45-minute grace period for airlines if the plane will likely take off during that time period.

Lost or damaged luggage

If your luggage is lost or damaged on domestic flights within Canada, you are now be entitled to up to $2,100 in compensation. The important thing to know is that if your luggage is damaged, you must file a claim with the airline within seven days of receiving your luggage. If your luggage is lost, then you have 21 days from the time it was supposed to have been delivered to make a claim. If your luggage is lost or damaged, airlines will also need to reimburse any baggage fees you paid.

Compensation for flight disruptions

Passengers are now entitled to compensation up to $1,000 for flight delays or cancellations based on the length of the delay and the airline they’re flying:

Length of delay Compensation (large airline) Compensation (small airline)
3 to 6 hours $400 $125
6 to 9 hours $700 $250
9+ hours $1,000 $500

Although you get up to one year to make a claim, airlines have 30 days to respond by paying you what you’re owed or they can provide you with a reason why they don’t think you’re owed anything. Since this compensation only applies when flight delays are out of the airline’s control and not safety-related, they may have a lot of reasons to not pay.

Another thing to consider about the compensation is that it only applies after you’ve made a claim. If you’re in an airport and delayed, you may need to pay out-of-pocket for food or even get a hotel for the night. Having a travel insurance policy in place that has defined payouts in the event of delays or cancellations would likely give you some added peace of mind as you’d be able to make arrangements knowing that you’ll be reimbursed. Don’t forget, many credit cards come with travel insurance included.

Rebooking and refunds

Whenever there is a flight delay or cancellation, the airline must ensure that passengers are able to complete their journey. As soon as a delay reaches 3 hours, airlines need to rebook the passenger on the next flight. With large airlines, if that next available flight doesn’t depart for 9 or more hours after the passenger’s original departure time, the airline would have to book you on a competing airline.

If the rebooking makes your travel pointless (for instance, you would miss your meeting) then you’d be entitled to a full refund on your ticket, plus $400 when flying on a larger airline or $125 on small airlines because you were inconvenienced.

Now, let’s say your flight disruption is outside of the airline’s control. In such cases, airlines must rebook you with a competing airline if their own next available flight isn’t scheduled to depart within 48 hours. This gives passengers some protection, but not many people would be happy about waiting up to two days to get on with their travel plans. A travel insurance policy that includes flight delay insurance may allow you to book on another airline much sooner, and at no cost to you, which is another reason why you should always have travel insurance.

The seating of children

As strange as it sounds, before the Air Passenger Protection Regulations were introduced, airlines weren’t required to seat children near their parent, guardian or tutor, but that’s no longer the case. Parents are now ensured that children under the age of 14 will be seated near them—but the proximity may not be acceptable to some:

Age of children Minimum seating distance required
Under the age of 5 Must be in an adjacent seat
Ages 5 to 11 Same row, separated by no more than one seat
Ages 12 and 13 Separated by no more than one row

There’s no extra cost for these seating arrangements but, as you can see, if your child is between the ages of five and 13, it’s possible they may not be seated as close to you as you’d like. If you want to ensure that you’re getting the seats you want, then you’re going to have to pay for advance seat selection.

Final thoughts

The airlines will have to pay for this somehow, and it’s likely to be through higher airfare costs for all travellers. Still, new passenger rights are a step in the right direction; however, the wording gives airlines a lot of wiggle room so they don’t have to pay. Even if you’re clearly entitled to compensation, it may take time for you to collect and your travel plans may be severely affected. To give yourself some extra protection, you’ll want to ensure you have travel insurance that includes trip cancellation, trip interruption and flight delays.


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