Majority of Canada’s Air Passenger Rights bill to come into force July 15

Vancouver International Airport (photo: supplied).

Canada’s Air Passenger Bill of Rights will go ahead this summer, despite wide-spread concern about their scope and applicability.

“We are delighted this day has finally happened,” said Transport Minister Marc Garneau. “We have been working on this a very, very long time.

“We think we have it right.”

The new rules provide that airlines “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,” in the case of delays on the tarmac. They will also have access to medical aid in that period.

“This is an insult to all Canadians. I am perplexed why the Trudeau Government chose to favour the private interests of airlines over the legitimate concerns of travellers,” said Gabor Lukács of the advocacy group Air Passenger Rights. “The government has previously admitted that the purpose of the new rules is to help airlines be ‘more competitive,’ and they are doing this at the expense of the travelling public.”

Garneau says some provisions such as compensation for denied boarding, and proper communication with passengers during delays, will come into effect July 15. At that time, airlines will have to:

  • communicate to passengers in a simple, clear way information on their rights and recourses and regular updates in the event of flight delays and cancellations;
  • provide compensation of up to $2,400 for bumping a passenger for reasons within their control;
  • ensure passengers receive standards of treatment during all tarmac delays and allow them to leave the airplane, when it’s safe to do so, if a tarmac delay lasts for over three hours and there’s no prospect of an imminent take-off;
  • provide compensation for lost or damaged baggage of up to $2,100 and a refund of any baggage fees; and
  • set clear policies for transporting musical instruments.

“There has never been a Canadian regulation that stipulates that all airlines must, after three hours,” said Garneau, “it is now in the regulation, it is three hours.

“Let’s say that after those three hours, you’re third in line from getting de-iced and it’s only going to take 30 or 40 minutes to get there, there is some leeway to give a little extra time to that pilot. If after three hours it doesn’t look like it’s going to change, then that airline must go back and offer disembarkation,” Garneau told reporters at Toronto-Pearson International Airport.

The regulations generally apply to situations within an airline’s control. Critics say, however, the rules are defined so narrowly they will be impossible for passengers to get compensation for their troubles.

“Passengers will not get a dime,” said Lukács. “Realistically, only the airline has access to information about the reasons for a delay or cancellation. Average travellers simply cannot verify or prove the reasons.

“It is simply catering to the airline industry. These rules are not for you or me the passengers, they are for the airlines.”

Garneau said events such as weather delays, terrorist threats, and air traffic control system failures would not be considered within an airline’s control.

Other more complex rules, such as those around parents being allowed to sit with their children, will come into effect December 15.

“This is the first time we’re going to have a clear, consistent set of rules that apply to all airlines,” said Scott Streiner, head of the Canadian Transportation Agency. “Now we’re going to have a baseline that applies to everybody.”

Streiner said recent decisions, such as a fine levied against Sunwing Airlines for massive delays in Toronto and Montreal, show that enforcement works to ensure regulations are followed.

Garneau said the rules will apply once an airline reaches two million passengers a year, giving some leeway to smaller carriers and Canada’s nascent ultra low-cost airlines, Flair and Swoop.

“People have been speaking about passenger rights for at least a decade,” said Garneau, “We finally did it.”