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Canada's air passenger protection rules finalized — here's what travellers can expect

The Canadian government has finalized the regulations that will spell out what rights airline passengers have when it comes to delays, overbooking and cancellations.

Transport Canada and the Canadian Transportation Agency (CTA) announced Friday that the Air Passenger Protection Regulations have been finalized and will be launched in two phases.

The first set of rules will go into effect beginning July 15, and include the regulations regarding clear communication, compensation for denied boarding, tarmac delays, lost or damaged baggage and the transportation of musical instruments.

But those hoping to get compensation for delays or cancellations will have to wait until December 15, when the second set of regulations regarding delays, cancellations as well as rebooking and refunding rules go into effect.

Federal Transport Minister Marc Garneau speaks at Pearson Airport in Toronto on Friday, May 24, 2019. (Yahoo Finance Canada)

“We are delighted that this day has finally happened because we’ve been working on this for a very, very long time,” Transport Minister Marc Garneau said at a news conference in Toronto on Friday.

“Our system will be world class, offering travellers flying to, from or within Canada with real and fair treatment standards and compensation.”

The CTA, an independent regulator that resolves disputes related to air, rail, and marine transportation, released the first draft of regulations in December.

When it comes to denied boarding for reasons within an airline’s control and not required for safety, passengers can receive between $900 and $2400, depending on the length of delay.

The regulations will also spell out standards of treatment for passengers facing tarmac delays. After a three hour delay, airlines will be required to return to the gate so passengers can disembark. However, an exception allows planes to stay on the tarmac an additional 45 minutes “if it is likely that it will take off within that period.”

Passengers will have a year to make a compensation claim with airlines that operated a flight that was either delayed or cancelled. The amount of compensation will depend on both the length of the delay and size of the airline.

For large airlines, passengers will receive:

  • $400 for a delay of 3-6 hours

  • $700 for a delay of 6-9 hours

  • $1000 for a delay of more than 9 hours

For small airline, passengers will receive:

  • $125 for a delay of 3-6 hours

  • $250 for a delay of 6-9 hours

  • $500 for a delay of more than 9 hours

“The intention wasn’t to create a package that would somehow tilt the playing field completely in one direction or the other, but one that would actually give strong protections to passengers while still taking into account the operating realities for airlines,” said Scott Streiner, the chief executive officer of the CTA.

“I think that’s where we’ve landed.”

The Canadian Automobile Association (CAA), one of Canada’s largest travel agencies, said that while the new rules are a positive step forward for passengers, the organization is disappointed with the delay in implementing the regulations.

“We think it’s very unfortunate that Canadians are going to have to wait six more months,” said Ian Jack, CAA’s managing director of communications. But overall, he believes the changes are a good start.

“Is it better than the nothing we had before? Absolutely... Are the rules perfect? No. We’re still going to push for more improvements as time goes one.”

One of those improvements that Jack said CAA will be pushing for is further clarification on issues that are classified as outside an airline’s control, including maintenance issues. Standards of treatment and compensation for passengers vary between situations that are classified as being within an airline’s control or not.

“We’re concerned about a grey area about what the government is calling mechanical issues with the plane,” Jack said. “So we think what needs to happen is a really strong audit function from the government (where) they’re going to have to tell you as a passenger what happened with the plane.”

Still, one passenger advocate group said it is is “alarmed” by the new regulations, calling them “airline friendly” rules that reduce protections for travellers.

Air Passenger Rights, an advocacy group founded by Gábor Lukács, said in a statement Friday that the rules “hurt passengers and reduce their rights in a number of ways.” Lukács pointed to the three hour tarmac delay regulation, as well as what he says is a narrow definition of the denied boarding rule, as examples of passenger rights being reduced.

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