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This is how Canada’s Air Passenger Protection Regulations apply to you

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Stephanie Patterson

Travel columnist

Did you know that you can receive monetary compensation if your flight is delayed or canceled in Canada? The skies have recently become friendlier when flying to, from, or within Canada. The reason? The Air Passenger Protection Regulations. 

These regulations apply to all airlines operating into, out of, and through Canada, holding them accountable for flight disruptions. They are designed to soften the financial and mental hardship felt by passengers. The Air Passenger Protection Regulations are similar to the EU261 in the European Union. Here’s what you need to know.

Canada’s Air Passenger Protection Regulations (APPR)

The Canadian Transportation Agency is the force behind the regulations. Here are the areas the APPR tackles:

  • Flight disruptions (cancellations or delays)
  • Airline communication with passengers
  • Denied boarding
  • Tarmac delays
  • Baggage that is lost, damaged, or delayed
  • Seating of children with parents or guardians 
  • Transportation of musical instruments

Under these regulations, large airlines (those that have transported at least two million passengers in any two preceding years) have more stringent requirements than the small airlines that fly to remote, regional, or northern areas of Canada. 

Is the flight delay or cancellation within the airline’s control?

When a qualifying flight is delayed or canceled, the compensation and standards of treatment passengers will receive depends upon the reason behind the disruption. If the cause is within the airline’s control, it must compensate passengers for the hardship it caused.

Within the airline’s control:

  • Overbooking, aircraft maintenance, mechanical malfunctions, or consolidation of flights because of low demand.

Within the airline’s control and required for safety:

  • Unforeseen events that could cause a safety issue for passengers, the pilot deciding to alter the flight, or changes made by the airline’s safety management system.

Outside the airline’s control:

  • Meteorological conditions, air traffic control, natural disasters, war, security threats, labor problems, and more.

The airline’s responsibility during and after a canceled or delayed flight

The airline is responsible for transporting passengers to their destination as soon as possible after a flight has been delayed or canceled. For canceled flights or delays (and schedule changes) of three or more hours, the airline must rebook passengers on the next available flight or on a flight with a code-sharing or alliance partner airline out of the same airport.

If a large airline cannot rebook a flight that departs within nine hours of the original departure time, it must rebook passengers as soon as possible on any airline. In other words, the airline would have to pay for your airfare on a competing airline. 

Small airlines must rebook passengers on the next available flight or a flight with a code-sharing or alliance partner airline. They are not required to rebook you with a competing airline.

48-hour regulation

The Air Passenger Protection Regulations state that if the airline is unable to rebook you within 48 hours of your original departure time, it must provide alternate travel arrangements at no additional cost. 

You would have the option of flying out of an alternate airport, and the airfare and cost of transportation to get there would be covered by the airline.

The 48-hour regulation includes flight disruptions within or outside the airline’s control.

Tip: When you are notified of a flight delay or cancellation, and you’re waiting for the airline to rebook you, it’s a good idea to start checking for available flights, including at nearby airports. 

If you find a flight with another airline, notify your existing airline immediately and ask if it will rebook you at their expense. The more proactive you are, the better your chances of getting to your destination in a timely manner. The airline representatives are swamped with calls during flight disruptions and may appreciate you making their job easier.

Passengers are entitled to a refund

If the new flight arrangements are not acceptable to you or if your trip is no longer necessary, you are entitled to a full refund. If you are no longer at your point of origin, the airline (large or small) must rebook you a return flight free of charge and refund the entire amount of your ticket.

The airline must issue all refunds within thirty days.

Monetary compensation under the Airline Passenger Protection Regulations

The Airline Passenger Protection Regulations say that if the flight delay or cancellation is within the airline’s control, it must compensate passengers for the hardship it caused. That is UNLESS it notifies passengers 14 days before the flight’s departure date

Passengers must receive monetary compensation based on the length of the delay to their final destination. 

Length of delay:      Compensation Amount – Large airlines     Small airlines

  • 3 to 6 hours: $400 $125 (CAD)  ($300/ $93 USD)
  • 6 to 9 hours: $700 $250 (CAD) ($524/ $187 USD)
  • 9 or more hours: $1000 $500 (CAD) ($750/ $374 USD)

Airlines can offer vouchers, flight credits, or rebates, but the passenger must agree to this form of compensation. The vouchers and rebates must be at a higher value than the monetary amount and cannot expire.

Note: Remember, in most cases, if an airline offers you a voucher, it will come with an expiration date. If you can’t use that flight credit before it expires, you’ll end up with nothing for your troubles. So keep that in mind before you select flight credit when you’re actually owed a cash refund. *Although the Air Passenger Protection Regulations indicate that the vouchers that are offered can’t expire, this isn’t the case elsewhere.

Passengers should request a refund and compensation

If a flight is canceled or is delayed three or more hours and is within the airline’s control, it must pay monetary compensation to passengers who request a refund instead of being rebooked on another flight. 

Fact: Under the Air Passenger Protection Regulations, travelers will receive a full refund and monetary compensation.

  • Large airlines: Compensation is $400 
  • Small airlines: Compensation is $125

Submit a claim for compensation  

To receive compensation, passengers must submit a claim in writing with the airline within one year. Documentation may be necessary as proof of the disruption. Keep your boarding pass and flight information showing that your flight was canceled or delayed.

The airlines have 30 days to respond by issuing a payment or a response as to why compensation is not required.

Airline Passenger Protection Regulations require airlines to communicate

Before the Air Passenger Protection Regulations, there were numerous complaints that airlines left passengers stranded and confused because of the lack of communication.

Airlines operating flights to, from and through Canada must communicate immediately with passengers when a flight is canceled or delayed. It must:

  • Notify passengers of the cause of the disruption.
  • Provide updates every 30 minutes until a new departure is confirmed. 
  • Inform passengers of what assistance it will offer, such as food, drinks, Wi-Fi, phone, or overnight accommodations.
  • Present the amount of compensation (if any) that passengers are entitled to.
  • Provide audible or visible announcements and notifications via text or email. 
  • Offer communication (via Braille or digital format) to passengers with disabilities if requested.

The airlines must notify passengers of their rights electronically and on travel documents when a flight is booked.

Standards of treatment of passengers

Before the Air Passenger Protection Regulations, passengers often had to fend for themselves during flight delays or cancellations, and these unplanned expenses created an additional burden. The regulations consider the treatment of passengers during delays, cancellations, or denied boarding situations, and the airlines must now follow specified standards of treatment.

If the flight delay or cancellation is within the airline’s control, and the notification is received less than 12 hours before departure time, or if the flight delay is two hours or more, the airline must:

  • Provide a reasonable quantity of food and drink and a means of communication (such as free Wi-Fi or phone).
  • Pay for your hotel or other accommodations, including transportation to and from the hotel.

Denied boarding the flight

As we’ve seen in past cases here at Consumer Rescue, being denied boarding a flight always has an adverse effect on passengers. When you buy a ticket, you expect to have a reserved seat on the plane. You plan your schedule accordingly, and then you must deal with the aftermath if you cannot board the plane because the airline is overbooked.

The only bright spot is that you’ll receive monetary compensation if the reason (such as overbooking) is within the airline’s control. 

Note: If you’re denied boarding, and the reason is not due to overbooking, the Canadian Air Transportation Agency has explained to Consumer Rescue’s founder, Michelle Couch-Friedman, that the airline doesn’t owe the passenger denied boarding compensation, unfortunately. See:

Request for volunteers to leave the aircraft

The airline must first ask for volunteers willing to give up their seats. It must give the volunteers a written confirmation of the agreed-upon benefits before the flight departs. If the volunteers disagree with the offer, they do not have to accept it and can remain on the flight.

If there are no volunteers, the airline will designate the passengers who will be denied boarding (or bumped). The airline must adhere to the priority boarding list and avoid bumping passengers with disabilities, those traveling with families, or unaccompanied minors. And the airline should not remove passengers that are already onboard.

The airline is responsible for providing compensation if you are denied boarding by something within the carrier’s control. It must also rebook you free of charge on another flight or provide a full refund if requested. 

You are entitled to receive the standards of treatment that include food and drinks and the ability to communicate (free Wi-Fi or phone). The airline must provide hotel or other accommodations, including transportation to and from the hotel if an overnight stay is required.

Compensation amounts for denied boarding

The length of the delay from your original departure time will determine the compensation amount.

Length of delay:

  • 0 to 6 hours:   $900 (CAD) $674 (USD)
  • 6 to 9 hours:   $1800 (CAD) $1,349 (USD)
  • 9 plus hours:  $2400 (CAD) $1,799 (USD)

The airline must issue payment immediately. If it cannot pay you before your new flight departs, it has 48 hours to issue the payment.

Tip: If the airline cannot pay you immediately, ask the representative to write down the amount you’ll be paid and how the payment will be issued. 

Passengers do not need to submit a claim when denied boarding.

If the delay is longer than expected, you can request additional compensation from the airline based on the total length of the delay. For example, if the airline pays you $900 and the delay ends up being over nine hours, you can request an additional $1500.

Denied boarding: Outside the airline’s control 

If you are denied boarding for safety purposes or if the reason is outside the airline’s control, it is only required to rebook you on another flight or provide a refund if requested. 

No additional compensation will be paid.

How to avoid getting bumped from a flight

Passengers can be denied boarding (bumped) if they miss any deadlines set forth by the airline or if they don’t have the proper travel documents or a passport if flying internationally. These passengers would not be entitled to any compensation.

The airline’s contract of carriage includes specific times when passengers must check in for their flight, check their baggage and arrive at the gate before departure. The airline can deny boarding if passengers are late in any of these areas.

For example, Air Canada requires passengers to be in line for security at least 60 minutes (90 minutes at the Toronto airport) before departure if flying domestically or from Canada to the United States. Passengers must check in and drop off their luggage before the 60-minute cut-off time. If passengers are late, they will not be able to check their bags, and the baggage counter may be closed.

Air Canada recommends that passengers arrive at the airport 120 minutes in advance for domestic flights or flights to the U.S. Passengers must be at the boarding gate 30 minutes before boarding. The gate will close 15 minutes before departure. 

Passengers arriving after the doors are closed (but before their departure time) will either be denied boarding without compensation, reassigned a seat, or their reservation could be canceled entirely. If the reservation is canceled, all other flights connected to this itinerary will also be canceled.

If a passenger’s behavior causes a safety concern, they will also be denied boarding. 

Tarmac delays

A tarmac delay can occur once the doors are closed at the boarding gate or when a plane lands and is waiting to disembark. 

Canada’s Air Passenger Protection Regulations ensure that passengers are treated with care while waiting on the tarmac. Standards of treatment include working bathrooms, food and drinks, proper ventilation and heating or cooling, and the ability for passengers to communicate outside the plane for free.

After three hours of being delayed on the tarmac, the plane must return to the gate to allow passengers to disembark. There is an exception. If the aircraft can take off within the next 45 minutes, it is allowed to remain on the tarmac. The standards of treatment must continue throughout the entire delay.

Baggage that is lost, damaged, or delayed

International flights: Canada is part of the Montreal Convention, an international air transport treaty. Under this treaty, airlines are liable for any lost, damaged, or delayed luggage during international travel up to $2,262/$1,700 per bag (CAD/USD) (subject to current exchange rates).

If your luggage is lost or delayed during international travel, file a report with the airline immediately. The sooner the airline is aware of the problem, the quicker you’ll be reunited with your bag. The airline can often identify where your wayward bag is and reroute it as necessary. 

Under the Montreal Convention, passengers have up to 21 days (from the day they receive a lost or delayed bag) to file a claim and seven days to file a claim with the airline if their luggage is damaged.

If your luggage does not show up for 21 days, it is considered lost. You will then need to file a second claim with the airline.

Refund baggage fees

The regulations require airlines to refund passengers for baggage fees paid.

Domestic flights: Canada extends the same protection to passengers on domestic flights with lost or damaged luggage as on international flights. Airlines are responsible for up to $2,350 to replace lost or damaged items in bags and must refund baggage fees.

However, when it comes to delayed luggage on domestic flights, the airline may establish its policy in its contract of carriage (also called domestic tariffs). The airline will determine if baggage fees will be refunded.

Submit a claim for lost, damaged, or delayed bags

It is up to the passenger to submit a claim in writing with the airline within the specified time frame. Keep your baggage information, baggage tags, and receipts of any clothing or toiletries you must pay for while your bag is delayed or lost. You may also need proof of when you purchased the items in your bag and their value.

Tip: Take pictures of the items in your bag and the outside of your luggage when packing. That will provide proof of the contents in the bag. You should pack valuables or electronics in your carry-on since, per their contract of carriage, airlines are not responsible for valuables in checked bags.

Seating of children under the age of 14 

The seating of children with their parents is an essential topic with the Canadian Transportation Agency. It becomes a safety issue when children are separated from their parents, creating unnecessary stress for both the parents and the children.  

Under the Air Passenger Protection Regulations, the airlines must seat children under 14 near their parents or guardian. The proximity of their seat is dependent upon the age of the child.

  • Children under five must be in a seat adjacent to their parent or guardian.
  • Children five to 11 must be in the same row with no more than one seat between them and their parents or guardian.
  • Children 12 or 13 cannot be separated from their parents or guardian by more than one row.

The airlines must spell out how they will handle unaccompanied minors in their contract of carriage. They can only transport children under five with a parent or someone 16 years or older traveling with them.

Transportation of musical instruments

The airlines must inform passengers in their contract of carriage how they will transport musical instruments on the aircraft and whether they will need to be checked or allowed as carry-on.

The policy must include the following:

  • The weight, size, and quantity restrictions of the musical instruments.
  • Storage options in the cabin of the plane.
  • What would occur if the aircraft is downgraded.
  • Any additional fees for transporting musical instruments.

Tip: The Canadian Transportation Agency recommends that passengers notify the airline that they will be traveling with a musical instrument 48 to 72 hours before their flight.

Passengers with disabilities

One of the purposes of the Canadian Transportation Agency is to make all federal public transportation available to everyone, including travelers with disabilities.

For additional information or to file a complaint, visit the Canadian Transportation Agency on accessible transportation.

Canadian Transportation Agency (CTA)

The Canadian Transportation Agency (CTA) is an independent quasi-judicial tribunal and regulator with “the powers of a superior court.”  

CTA’s responsibilities include:

  • Maintaining the national transportation system.
  • Protecting the rights of persons with disabilities and ensuring accessibility on transportation services.
  • Providing consumer protection for passengers.

Passengers can file a complaint with the CTA if they cannot resolve an issue with the airline. The CTA acts as a mediator between passengers and airlines.

According to the CTA, “Most complaints (97%) are resolved informally through facilitation or mediation. Other complaints move to a formal adjudication process.”

The number of complaints per 100 flights operated by Canadian airlines is low. From April to September 2022, the average percentage of complaints with the six Canadian airlines was 7.6%. 

The Bottom line

Before Canada’s Air Passenger Protection Regulations were enacted, the Canadian Transportation Agency sought extensive input from travelers, consumer rights groups, and the airline industry. The CTA then put together a draft, submitted it for review with these same groups, and made changes accordingly. 

By allowing parties from all sides to provide their input, the regulations stand a better chance of being supported and successful. 

It’s to your benefit to know what compensation or standards of care is available if you run into a problem on your flight or with your luggage. If the airline fails to follow through on the regulations, you will have the confidence to know what is a reasonable request.

Airline passenger complaints soared worldwide last year. That clearly illustrates that it’s time for airlines to put passengers at the forefront by making much-needed changes.

We’re here for you at Consumer Rescue. If you need help resolving an issue with an airline, feel free to contact us at Consumer Rescue. We genuinely desire to protect consumers and help you receive refunds or benefits that are rightfully yours. 

And we do it for free. There are no hidden costs and no hidden agendas. (Stephanie Patterson, Consumer Rescue)

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Stephanie Patterson

Stephanie is a travel columnist at Consumer Rescue. She has authored several books for corporate travelers (available on Amazon and Barnes and Noble) and also publishes an informative website with a focus on promoting smart and safe travel. When Stephanie is not here helping consumers, she's an interior designer who loves to think outside the norm!