Amid travel chaos, regulator unveils new passenger rights rules to fill refund

Canada’s transport regulator aims to beef up its passenger rights charter, placing more stringent rules around reimbursement by airlines — though some advocates say the rules fall short of frameworks in other countries.

New regulations effective Sept. 8 will require carriers to either refund passengers or rebook them, at the traveller’s choice, if a flight is cancelled or delayed by three hours or more, the Canadian Transportation Agency said Wednesday.

Previously, the passenger rights regime only required refunds for flight disruptions that were within the airline’s control, which excluded situations ranging from weather to war to unscheduled mechanical issues.

“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 lengthy delays occur that are outside the airline’s control passengers will be protected if the airline cannot complete their itinerary within a reasonable period of time,” agency chair France Pégeot said in a release.

The regulations match policies implemented by Air Canada in 2021, said spokesman Peter Fitzpatrick.

Thousands of Canadians have faced a slew of long delays and flight cancellations as airlines and security and customs agencies struggle to handle a staffing shortage amid the recent travel surge. The problem is expected to leave summer travellers without protection from the new rules, which don’t kick in until fall.

The regulations will require airlines to offer a rebooking or refund within 30 days if they cannot provide a new reservation within 48 hours of a flight cancellation or three-hour-plus delay.

Any unused portion of a ticket must be covered, including “any unused add-on service paid for,” the regulator said. And a refund must be the same as the original payment method. That means a credit card purchase could not be reimbursed with a travel voucher, as most Canadian airlines did for nearly a year starting in March 2020 amid hundreds of thousands of cancellations set off by the pandemic.

Ian Jack, a consumer rights advocate with the Canadian Automobile Association, called the revised charter “a very good but limited advance” in passenger protections because while airlines will be forced to pay refunds, they can still avoid paying compensation of between $400 and $1,000 due to factors outside their control.

“There’s an incentive here for the carriers to declare mechanical problems. As a passenger, it’s very hard for you to ever verify that,” Jack said.

His advocacy group is calling on Ottawa to mandate that airlines publish data around delays and cancellations, as the United States does, to encourage competition and expose any disproportionate numbers.

Gabor Lukacs, president of the Air Passenger Rights advocacy group, called the fresh framework a “sham.”

He said mandating a refund or a rebooking only if the airline cannot secure another seat on a plane that leaves within two days of the original departure time fails to serve traveller needs in situations ranging from weekend visits to short work trips.

“For a Friday flight, if the flight is cancelled, the airline will be able to offer…

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