In the midst of travel chaos, the regulator reveals new passenger rights rules to fill the reimbursement gap

Canada’s regulator aims to strengthen the Charter of Passenger Rights by imposing stricter rules on reimbursement by airlines – although some spokesmen say the rules do not meet the framework in other countries.

New regulations coming into force on September 8 will require carriers to either refund passengers or rebook them, at the passenger’s choice, if a flight is canceled or delayed by three hours or more, the Canadian Transportation Agency said Wednesday.

Previously, the passenger rights regime only demanded reimbursement for flight interruptions that were within the airline’s control, which ruled out situations ranging from weather to war to unplanned mechanical problems.

“These regulations will close the gap in the Canadian Air Passenger Protection Regime highlighted by the COVID-19 pandemic and ensure that even when cancellations and long delays occur that are beyond the airline’s control, passengers will be protected if the airline cannot complete the itinerary within a reasonable time.” France Pégeot in a press release.

The regulations comply with guidelines implemented by Air Canada in 2021, said spokesman Peter Fitzpatrick.

Thousands of Canadians have faced a number of long delays and cancellations of flights as airlines and security and customs agencies struggle to deal with a shortage of staff in the midst of the recent increase in travel. The problem is expected to leave summer travelers without protection from the new rules, which do not take effect until the autumn.

The regulations will require airlines to rebook or refund within 30 days if they cannot make a new reservation within 48 hours of canceling a flight or three hours plus a delay.

Every unused portion of a ticket must be covered, including “any unused additional service paid for,” the regulator said. And a refund must be the same as the original payment method. This means that a credit card purchase could not be refunded with a travel voucher, as most Canadian airlines did for almost a year from March 2020, amid hundreds of thousands of cancellations caused by the pandemic.

Ian Jack, a spokesman for consumer rights at the Canadian Automobile Association, called the revised charter “a very good but limited advance” in terms of passenger protection, because even though airlines will be forced to pay refunds, they can still avoid paying compensation on between $ 400 and $ 1,000. factors beyond their control.

“There is an incentive here for carriers to declare mechanical problems. As a passenger, it is very difficult for you to ever confirm that,” Jack said.

His spokesman asks Ottawa to mandate that airlines publish data on delays and cancellations, as the United States does, to encourage competition and reveal disproportionate figures.

Gabor Lukacs, president of the Air Passenger Rights Advocacy Group, called the new framework a “sham.”

He said that imposing a refund or rebooking only if the airline can not secure another seat on a flight that leaves within two days of the original departure time, does not meet the needs of travelers in situations ranging from weekend visits to short business trips.

“For a Friday flight, if the flight is canceled, the airline will be able to offer the passenger a departure on Sunday that the passenger will never be able to take because they work on Monday. And the airline can still shell out the money,” Lukacs said in an interview.

“We live in a world at high speed. A few hours delay means you do not come to a funeral, a wedding, a court hearing.”

The European Union requires airlines to provide a seat within five hours of the first departure – not 48 – or a refund must be offered.

In the EU and the US, passengers must also be refunded a cancellation of flights within seven days instead of 30 under Canada’s new scheme.

The CTA acknowledged that the change did not comply with the requirements of the EU or the US, but said that it represents the realities of Canadian carriers.

“(They) may be required to provide multiple reimbursements at once due to weather-related disruptions,” the agency said in its analysis of the impact of the regulations.

Airlines claim that the Air Passenger Protection Regulations, which came into force in 2019, are already going too far.

Canadian airlines asked a federal appeals panel in April to repeal rules that strengthen compensation for passengers exposed to delayed flights and damaged luggage.

Air Canada and Porter Airlines Inc., along with 16 other appellants, said that the charter of passenger rights violated global standards and should be invalidated for international flights.

Under the three-year-old federal rules, passengers must be compensated up to $ 2,400 if they were denied boarding – so-called flight bumping – because a trip was overbooked, and receive up to $ 2,100 for lost or damaged luggage. Delays and other payments for canceled flights guarantee compensation of up to $ 1000.

This report from The Canadian Press was first published on June 22, 2022.

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Christopher Reynolds, The Canadian Press