Canada moves to protect passengers’ rights

THE obligations of airlines to compensate passengers for disrupted and cancelled flights has long been an elusive subject, and definitely one clouded with fuzzy arguments that make it difficult to implement any clear solutions or remedial action.

The Canadian Transport Agency is making another go at protecting passengers’ rights, saying that in the event of an overbooked, delayed or cancelled flight, passengers should be given the option of a full refund and a free trip home if the occurrence jiggles up their travel plans. Airlines may be required to book stranded passengers on the first available flight, even if it means on a competitor’s flight.

The screws have been made tighter in that passengers would be entitled to a full refund compared to the past practice of airlines reimbursing only the unused portion of the itinerary. Of course, there is the exclusion caveat of disruptions caused by circumstances outside the airlines’ control such as inclement weather and security issues.

CTA’s regulation would affect Canadian airlines, namely Air Canada, Westjet and Air Transat. The agency had already in the past made it a necessary condition for their operations to visibly display their obligations such that passengers are aware of their rights.

As experienced by the European Union (EU) for some years now, implementation is going to be a challenge. The EU has threatened to resort to legal action against airlines that do not comply with its rules. For example, EU rules require that passengers must be reimbursed for hotel accommodation and meals for the whole period that they are stranded but some airlines will only pay for 24 hours.

Airlines are unhappy with the rules, expressing concern that there is no limit to what they have to pay out. This has resulted in a backlog of claims that for some airlines accumulated for as many as 500 flights. In the end, passengers are no better off than they were, in a continuing and enervating battle whose sign of victory, if any, constantly eludes them. For both parties, fortunately for the airlines and unfortunately for their customers, time is the great healer.

But it remains a worthy pursuit, purely in the name of fair play.

 

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About David Leo
David Leo has more than 30 years of aviation experience, having served in senior management in one of the world's best airlines and airports. He continues to maintain a keen interest in the business, writes freelance and provides consultancy services in the field.

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