Simultaneous weather delays at largest Canadian travel hubs was ‘unprecedented’: Former Air Canada COO
Thousands of Canadians had their holiday plans disrupted last month as a major winter storm caused chaos at major airports during one of the busiest travel weekends of the year.
Passengers are entitled to compensation for lost bags and cancelled flights, and experts told BNNBloomberg.ca that recent changes to passenger rights regulations in Canada may put more pressure on airlines to pay up for weather-related challenges.
WHAT ARE PEOPLE ENTITLED TO
WestJet and Air Canada offered refunds to passengers who chose to cancel their holiday flights.
Canada's Air Passenger Protection Regulations requires that airlines pay people for flight cancellations, delays and lost or damaged bags. Companies must also reimburse people for some costs incurred due to delays, like meals and hotels. Compensation is owed for delays of three hours or more, or if people are informed of the cancellation or delay 14 days or less before the original departure time, among other inconveniences.
The amount of money customers are entitled to varies depending on how much control the airline had over the reason for the delay or cancellation. Recent changes to air passenger rights in Canada, upheld in a court decision last month, means airlines must offer refunds for cancellations due to situations outside the company’s control, including major weather events, if the airline does not offer alternative booking within 48 hours.
For lost or delayed bags, airlines are on the hook to compensate people up to $2,300 for lost items that need replacing, along with compensation for baggage fees if a bag is lost.
Gabor Lukacs, president of advocacy group Air Passenger Rights, said in an email to BNNBloomberg.ca that the “law is clear” and airlines will likely pay up significantly for the holiday disruptions. He noted that people are entitled to compensation for cancellations and delays that were “improperly attributed to weather,” and if the airline failed to rebook customers on competitors’ airlines within 48 hours.
TIMELINE FOR COMPENSATION
The Canadian Transportation Agency (CTA) advises that people keep copies of receipts and updates from airlines.
“If you believe that the airline did not follow its obligations, make a complaint in writing to the airline as soon as possible,” the regulatory agency’s website said.
People must submit claims within seven days of receiving damaged bags or 21 days after receiving delayed bags. Baggage delayed beyond 21 days is considered lost, and the CTA advises people submit bag claims as soon as possible within the required timelines, or airlines could deny them.
Airlines have 30 days to respond to claims and compensation requests. Complaints can be made to the CTA if customers are not satisfied with the airline’s response or if they do not hear back within 30 days.
Lukacs said people should push for swift refunds.
“Passengers should demand that the airline pay compensation within 30 days. If the airline refuses to pay or ignores the request, passengers should take the airline to small claims court,” he said.
Aviation expert John Gradek, a faculty lecturer at McGill University, said he expects airlines will resist paying people out for holiday inconveniences. He said it will be up to the regulatory agency to enforce the new federal regulations that now say airlines must still compensate people even if a service disruption was caused by the weather.
“It's going to be a question of how the agency interprets the excuses that the airlines are going to be using to not pay,” he said in a telephone interview with BNNBloomberg.ca on Tuesday.
“From an airline perspective, they'd rather not pay. Now, how much will they pay and how much are they going to be forced to pay is going to be a question for the CTA to answer, and that's going to be a difficult one.”
LATEST AIR TRAVEL WOES
Airport scenes over the holidays brought back memories of last summer, when a surge in demand for post-pandemic travel and airline staffing shortages resulted in similar challenges.
Lukacs said the situations are comparable, but noted that December’s issues happened over a shorter period, and “and people are protective of their holidays.”