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New rules lay out rights of Canadian airline passengers. Here's the list

The government has unveiled new protections for airline passengers, rules designed to make sure both airlines and the people who fly on them are up to date on what they are entitled to when things go wrong.

First set of rules are in place today, with even more coming in mid-December

The new rules dictate what passengers are entitled to in terms of compensation when their flight is delayed for reasons within the airline's control. (Luke MacGregor/Reuters)

The federal government has unveiled new protections for airline passengers, rules designed to make sure both airlines and the people who fly on them are up to date on what they are entitled to when things go wrong.

Some of the new rules will be in place as of July 2019, while the rest won't be in force until Dec. 15. Exactly what's changing is outlined below.

Communication issues

The first rule deals with proper communication guidelines. As of today, airlines must inform passengers of their rights in a timely, clear and accessible way. That means passengers must be provided with clear and concise language explaining the rules for what happens in the event of a flight delay or cancellation, what happens if they are denied boarding for some reason, what the policy is for lost or damaged luggage, and what the rules are for the seating of children under 14 years of age. There are special rules to deal with accessibility rules, too. 

Airlines have to communicate with any disabled passengers using adaptive technologies when necessary. "If information is provided in paper format, the airline will have to be able to provide it in large print, Braille or a digital format, upon request," the rules say.

Delays prior to boarding

Beyond communication issues, airlines must inform their customers of any disruption to the flight, prior to boarding. That would include any flight and tarmac delays, flight cancellations, or denials of boarding due to causes like overbooking.

Airlines must now inform their customers of any such issues in up to three ways:

  • An audible announcement.
  • A visible announcement, upon request.
  • The available communication method the passenger has selected (e.g., email, SMS).

If there are any such delays, airlines have to provide flight status updates every 30 minutes until a new departure time has been confirmed. The airline must offer any new status information to passengers as soon as is feasible, which may be sooner than 30 minutes after the last update.

Overbooking/bumping

Overbooked flights often lead to denial of boarding for some passengers, and the new rules dictate what should happen in those scenarios. Airlines are obligated to request volunteers to get off a flight before kicking anyone off. If someone does volunteer, the airline has to put in writing the benefits that they have agreed to in exchange for giving up their seat.

Anyone who's denied a seat for reasons in the airline's control (and not required for safety) is entitled to compensation based on how late they will arrive at their final destination, compared to their original plan

A delay of zero to six hours means $900 in compensation. Six to nine hours means $1,800, and any delay of more than nine hours is worth $2,400 in compensation.

Stuck on the plane

Tarmac delays once flights are boarded and have left the gate also get new clarity. Any passenger on a plane that has left the gate is entitled to 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, if feasible.

Compensation rules in place for international flights when luggage gets lost will now extend to flights within Canada, too. (The Associated Press)

If passengers are stuck on the tarmac for three hours, airlines must allow the plane to go back to the gate so passengers can get off. There is an exception, however, that the airline can extend that to three hours and 45 minutes if they deem it is likely they will be able to take off in that extra period — and only if all the other conditions are met. 

But under no circumstances is the airline allowed to keep passengers on the tarmac for more than three hours and 45 minutes.

Lost luggage

Under existing rules, anyone who has a lost bag is entitled to up to $2,100 in compensation if their bag is lost on an international flight.

The new rules mandate that compensation level be in effect now for domestic flights, too.

Rules for transporting musical instruments

Airlines can't just vaguely say they accept instruments. They have to make clear in their ticketing process what the weight, size and carry-on restrictions are for instruments.

They must also note the options for storing instruments in cabin, and what happens in the event the plane is downgraded to a smaller plane. They must also be clear about any fees involved.

What's going to change in December?

The rules above are in force now. On Dec. 15, a second round of rules come into play, on top of the existing ones. As of then, airlines will have to provide passengers with information on the applicable standards of treatment and compensation.

They will also have to tell passengers about their recourse options, including the ability to make a complaint to the Canadian Transportation Agency.

Compensation for cancelled or delayed flights

The compensation rules related to flight delays and cancellations for reasons within the control of the airline will kick in as of Dec. 15. Passengers on large airlines will get $400 for a delay of between three and six hours, $700 of a delay of six to nine hours, and $1,000 for a delay of nine hours or more. Small airlines must pay $125, $250 and $500, respectively, for those same delays.

(These compensation rules will be on top of the compensation rules for bumping passengers, which are now in effect and are outlined above.)

Large airlines and small airlines will be subject to slightly different rules. (Ralph Orlowski/Reuters)

The compensation can be cash or in vouchers or flight rebates, but those options are up to the passenger to choose. If what is offered is not cash, the compensation must have a value higher than the mandated minimum.

Flight delays

After a delay at departure of two hours, the airline operating the disrupted flight will have to provide:

  • Food and drink in reasonable quantities.
  • Electronic means of communication (e.g., free Wi-Fi).

If a delay runs overnight, airlines will have to offer hotel or other comparable accommodation free of charge, as well as free transportation to the accommodation.

Rebookings

Once a delay extends past three hours, airlines must rebook passengers on the next available flights. The new flight must be of the same class ticket as the original one, and if the next flight on that airline is more than nine hours away the airline must rebook the passenger on another airline if possible.

If the delay is so long that it makes the passenger no longer want to take the flight, the passenger will be entitled to a refund of their ticket, as well as compensation for inconvenience: $400 for large airlines and $125 for small airlines.

Seats for children

As of December, airlines must do whatever they can to allow a child under the age of 14 sit next to their parent or guardian, at no extra cost. Kids under five will be in the seat next to their parent. Kids between five and 11 will be in the same row and no more than one seat away. Kids 12 and 13 years old can be no more than one row away from their parents.

Enforcement

Airlines are on the hook for a penalty of up to $25,000 for each incident in which they are found non-compliant with the new rules.

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