The Perils Of Airline Travel – Customer Rights

The airline Industry has been able to get away with things sometimes that leave the passenger at the mercy of the their wishes, no matter how inconvenient it is for the passengers, without compensation till now. For example airlines have been known on occasion to cancel or reschedule flights if they are not full enough and switch the passengers to another flight.

There was also  point in time where airlines did not charge for baggage, that was in 2008, this is when the airlines started charging extra for baggage to compensate them from high fuel costs when oil was $150 a barrel, now it is half that, but the fees remain. Air Canada charges $30 for the first bag and $50 for the second bag. There was also the time when seats in the economy section near the exit door were a good choice, because of extra leg room, now they charge a premium for it and now there is a premium pricing for seats in the front of the plane now.

On May 24, 2019, the Canadian Transportation Agency (CTA) announced the Air Passenger Protection Regulations. These new regulations reflect input that the CTA received from the public, consumer rights groups, and the airline industry. These will have protections for cancelled flights, denial of boarding, lost/damaged luggage and seating of children under 14 years old. These rights provides compensation to travellers (see below for details). 

What the regulations do not address is the pricing practices of airlines that mimic the cartel model, if one airline does it all follow suit , like they all work in concert together. Pricing should not be dynamic or what better be described as the ransom model as prices increase closer to departure date and should be part of these new regulations. But these regulations are a good first step in an attempt to keep the industry honest and fair. But, with any new regulation a possible side effect it will raise the cost of doing business and may result in higher fares in the future and some airlines are fighting it. In the USA, they have just introduce their bill of rights in August 2019 to put more pressure on the industry and Europe introduced these rights in 2004.

Air Passenger Protection Regulations

To ensure robust passenger protection, the regulations apply to all flights to, from, and within Canada. This includes connecting flights.

The regulations also apply to both large and small airlines. However, different requirements for compensation and rebooking apply to small airlines, given their unique operating circumstances. Large airlines are those that have transported at least two million passengers in each of the two preceding years. All other airlines are considered to be small.

The vast majority of passenger flights to, from and within Canada are operated by large airlines. Small airlines offer important services to remote, regional and northern areas of Canada, as well as low-cost services.

Flight Disruptions

The Act provides that airlines will have the following obligations to passengers in case of flight disruptions, depending on the level of their control over the situation:

  • Situation within airline control: compensation; standards of treatment; and completion of passenger’s itinerary;
  • Situation within airline control but required for safety purposes: standards of treatment; and completion of passenger’s itinerary;
  • Situation outside airline control: completion of passenger’s itinerary only.

Definitions of situations within and outside of the airline’s control

  • Situations within airline control are any situations not covered by the two categories below.For example, they include commercial overbooking; scheduled maintenance of an aircraft that is necessary to comply with legal requirements; or mechanical malfunction of the aircraft identified during scheduled maintenance.
  • Situations within airline control but required for safety purposes are typically unforeseen events legally required to reduce safety risk to passengers. While this includes mechanical problems, it does not include scheduled maintenance or mechanical problems identified during scheduled maintenance. Safety decisions made by the pilot and those made under an airline’s Safety Management System would also fall into this category.
  • Situations outside airline control include: war or political instability; illegal acts or sabotage; meteorological conditions or natural disasters that make the safe operation of the aircraft impossible; instructions from air traffic control; a Notice to Airmen (as defined in the Canadian Aviation Regulations); a security threat; airport operation issues; a medical emergency; a collision with wildlife; a labour disruption within the carrier or within an essential service provider such as an airport or an air navigation service provider; a manufacturing defect in an aircraft that reduces the safety of passengers and that was identified by the manufacturer of the aircraft concerned, or by a competent authority; and an order or instruction from an official of a state or a law enforcement agency or from a person responsible for airport security.

Requirements as of July 15, 2019

Clear communication

General information

The regulations require that passengers be informed of their rights in a timely, clear and accessible way. Airlines will have to provide passengers with information in simple, clear and concise language on their terms and conditions of carriage for:

  • Flight delay or cancellation;
  • Denial of boarding;
  • Lost or damaged baggage; and
  • The seating of children under 14 years of age.

This information will have to be provided electronically and on all travel documents the airline provides to the passenger. This could be done via a hyperlink to the airline’s website. Airlines will also be required to make reasonable efforts to ensure that official ticket resellers provide this information to customers.

During a flight disruption

Airlines will be required to keep passengers regularly informed if there is a flight disruption (flight and tarmac delays; flight cancellations; and denials of boarding).

They will have to tell passengers why their flight has been disrupted as soon as is feasible. This information will have to be provided through:

  • an audible announcement;
  • a visible announcement, upon request; and
  • the available communication method the passenger has selected (e.g., email, SMS).

Airlines will have to provide flight status updates every 30 minutes until a new departure time has been confirmed. The airline must offer any new status information to passengers as soon as is feasible, which may be sooner than 30 minutes after the last update.

Accessibility for persons with disabilities

Airlines will have to ensure that communication is accessible to persons with disabilities. Where information is provided digitally, the format will have to be compatible with adaptive technologies used by persons with disabilities. If information is provided in paper format, the airline will have to be able to provide it in large print, Braille or a digital format, upon request.

Denied boarding

Denied boarding occurs when a passenger has a valid ticket for a flight, but is not allowed to occupy a seat on board the aircraft because the number of passengers who have checked in, have proper documentation and are at the gate on time is greater than the number of available  seats that can be occupied.

Before any carrier denies boarding to a passenger for reasons within its control or required for safety, it must look for volunteers to give up their seat. Once an airline has found a volunteer to give up their seat, the airline must put in writing for them the benefits agreed to prior to the departure of their flight.

Any passenger who is denied boarding for a reason that is within the airline’s control and is not required for safety – for example, commercial overbooking or a change in aircraft due to scheduled maintenance – would be entitled to compensation. A passenger’s compensation would be based on length of delay at arrival at their final destination.

Minimum Levels of Compensation

Length of delayAmount (CAD)
0-6 hours$900
6-9 hours$1800
9+ hours$2400

The airline operating the affected flight will have to issue compensation at the time the passenger is notified that they are denied boarding. The amount of compensation could be supplemented if a passenger’s delay at arrival is longer than was expected when payment was issued. If payment cannot be made before the passenger’s new departure time, the airline would be required to issue the payment within 48 hours.

After an airline denies boarding to a passenger, they must rebook them free of charge, meeting the same obligations as described for flight delays and cancellations below. While the passenger waits for their new flight, the airline must provide the standards of treatment described for flight delays and cancellations below.

Tarmac delays

The regulations ensure that during tarmac delays – whether they occur in Canada or abroad – passengers are properly treated.  Standards of treatment for all tarmac delays include, at minimum, access to working lavatories, proper ventilation and heating or cooling, food and drink, and the ability to communicate with people outside the plane free of charge, if feasible.

As well, after a 3 hour tarmac delay at a Canadian airport, airlines will be required to return to the gate so that passengers can disembark. However, a plane will be permitted to stay on the tarmac for up to 45 additional minutes, if it is likely that it will take off within that period and the airline is able to continue providing the required standards of treatment.

This allowance for a short extension is intended to ensure that the plane can take off if there is a reasonable prospect of this occurring – so that passengers reach their final destination and do not suffer further inconvenience caused by a flight cancellation.

However, if take off is not likely to occur within that 45 minute window, the plane will have to return to the gate. In no circumstances will airlines be permitted to exceed this time, unless they are prevented for reasons related to safety, security, customs or air traffic control.

Lost or damaged baggage

Under the Montreal Convention, an international air transport treaty to which Canada is a party, airlines can be held liable for baggage that is damaged or lost during international travel, up to approximately $2100. To provide better protection to passengers travelling within Canada, the  airlines will be held liable for up to the same amount for baggage that is lost or damaged during domestic flights.

A passenger must file a claim for expenses with the airline. For damaged baggage, the claim must be submitted within seven days after the passenger receives the baggage. For potentially lost baggage, the claim must be submitted within 21 days after the day it was supposed to arrive.

In addition, the regulations require airlines to reimburse passengers for any baggage fees paid if their baggage is damaged or lost.

Transportation of musical instruments

Airlines will have to include, in their tariffs, terms and conditions of carriage regarding the transportation of musical instruments as checked or carry-on baggage. This includes:

  • Weight, size and quantity restrictions;
  • Cabin storage options;
  • Options in the event of aircraft downgrading; and
  • Fees for transporting musical instruments.

A policy which simply states that the airline will not accept musical instruments does not meet the requirements.

Requirements as of December 15, 2019

Flight disruptions (as of December 15, 2019)


In addition to the communication requirements above, airlines will have to provide passengers with information on the applicable standards of treatment and compensation. They will also have to tell passengers about their recourse options, including the ability to make a complaint to the Canadian Transportation Agency.

Minimum Levels of Compensation

Airlines will be required to pay passengers compensation for flight delays or cancellations that are in their control and not related to safety. Passengers will be entitled to compensation based on the length of delay at arrival at their final destination:

Length of delayAmount (CAD)
3-6 hours$400
6-9 hours$700
9+ hours$1000
Length of delayAmount (CAD)
3-6 hours$125
6-9 hours$250
9+ hours$500

A passenger will have one year to make a compensation claim with the airline that operated the disrupted flight. The airline would have 30 days to respond by issuing a payment or indicating why it believes compensation is not owed.

Airlines will have to offer passengers this compensation in monetary form. 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. As well, alternative forms of compensation offered will have to be of higher value than the monetary compensation that is required, and can never expire. 

Standards of Treatment

The regulations establish minimum standards of treatment that airlines will have to provide to passengers for delays at departure that are within their control, or within their control and required for safety purposes.

After a delay at departure of 2 hours, the airline operating the disrupted flight will have to provide:

  • food and drink in reasonable quantities; and
  • electronic means of communication (e.g., free wifi).

Finally, once a delay is expected to extend overnight, airlines will have to offer hotel or other comparable accommodation free of charge, as well as free transportation to the accommodation.

Rebooking and refund

For all types of flight delays or cancellations, the airline operating the flight will have to ensure passengers complete their itinerary (that is, reach their final destination). Once a delay reaches 3 hours, an airline will also need to rebook the passenger on their next available flight.  

If a flight delay or cancellation is within their control, or within their control and required for safety purposes, airlines will be subject to additional requirements, as follows:

  • Passengers would have to be rebooked in the same class of service.
  • Large airlines would have to rebook the passenger on another (competing) airline, if their own next available flight departs 9 or more hours after the passenger’s original departure time.

If a flight or cancellation is within their control (and not required for safety purposes), and rebooking does not meet a passenger’s travel needs (e.g., there is no longer any purpose to the travel), the passenger will be entitled to a refund of their ticket, as well as compensation for inconvenience: $400 for large airlines and $125 for small airlines.

In the event of a flight disruption outside of the airline’s control, a large airline will be required to rebook using the services of another (competing) airline, if their own next available flight does not depart within 48 hours.

In all cases, routing of the new flight(s) must be reasonable. If a large airline is unable to rebook a passenger on a flight leaving the same airport within 48 hours of the original departure time, they will have to book the passenger on a flight leaving another airport, if there is an option nearby.

Seating of children (as of December 15, 2019)

Airlines will have to, at no extra cost and at the earliest opportunity, help seat children under the age of 14 near to their parent, guardian or tutor.  The proximity will depend on the age of the child:  Under the age of 5:in a seat adjacent to their parent, guardian or tutor.Aged 5 to 11:in the same row and separated by no more than one seat from their parent, guardian or tutor.Aged 12 or 13:separated by no more than a row from the parent, guardian or tutor.

Airlines will also be required to establish a policy for unaccompanied minors, and prohibit minors under the age of five from travelling without their parent or an accompanying person who is at least 16 years old.


Airlines will be required to follow the obligations set out in the regulations as soon as they come into force and could be subject to administrative monetary penalties of up to $25,000 per incident for non-compliance. In the event of an air travel-related dispute that cannot be resolved directly by  a passenger and an airline, the passenger can make a complaint to the CTA.