Air Passenger Rights in Canada: What you need to know

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Air passenger rights in Canada were introduced a few years back to help consumers with flight disruptions. While there’s no denying that some services have improved, the lack of compensation for delays and cancellations has become a complete joke.

Even if you’re fairly entitled to compensation, many Canadian airlines will refuse your claim since they can use an easy loophole. While this will clearly annoy many people, it’s still worthwhile to know how air passenger rights in Canada work and what your alternatives are.

What are Air Passenger Rights in Canada?

The Canadian Transportation Agency (CTA) developed Air Passenger Protection Regulations to ensure airlines offer minimum standards for passengers. Some of these regulations have been great, but some have created more headaches than there should be. Understanding how the standards of treatment work are essential.

Compensation for delays

Without a doubt, most people reading about Canadian air passenger rights will be interested in compensation. How much you’ll get paid depends on how late you arrived at your final destination and the size of your air carrier.

Large airlines (Air Canada, WestJet)

  • $400 – Flight delays of 3 hours or more, but less than 6 hours
  • $700 – Delays of 6 hours or more, but less than 9 hours
  • $1,000 – Delays of 9 hours or more

Small airlines (Sunwing, Air Transat, Porter, Swoop, Flair)

  • $125 – Flight delays of 3 hours or more, but less than 6 hours
  • $250 – Delays of 6 hours or more, but less than 9 hours
  • $500 – Delays of 9 hours or more

While these compensation rules seem pretty straightforward, there are a few situations where airlines don’t need to pay:

  • Situations outside the airline’s control, such as weather, natural disasters, air traffic control, and tarmac delays
  • Circumstances within the airline’s control but required for the safety of passengers

Basically, airlines only really need to pay if the delay was within their control. For example, crew shortages. That said, airlines have been denying compensation for crew shortages as they’ve said not having enough crew is a safety concern. 

Note that these compensation rules only apply when travelling within Canada. They also don’t help you if you need to pay out of pocket for alternate travel arrangements. 

Rebooking and refunds

One recent change with Passenger rights in Canada is how rebooking and refunds work. Airlines must always ensure that your itinerary is completed as soon as possible. However, if your flight is delayed or cancelled by three hours or more, you have a few options.

For Situations within the airline’s control, large airlines must rebook you on the next available flight within nine hours of your original departure time. If they can’t rebook within that window, your flight must depart within 48 hours. If they still can’t get you on a plane within that time period, they must book you on any airline to get you to your final destination. Small airlines only need to book you on the next flight or any airline they have an agreement with.

Now let’s say the delay is outside of the airline’s control. Large airlines must book you on any airline within 48 hours if the route is out of the same airport or from a nearby airport to your destination. Small airlines only need to do it with one of their partners.

Here’s the problem. The 48-hour rule for situations within the airline’s control doesn’t help people taking weekend trips. Even if you’re taking a longer vacation, you could lose up to two days. The rule for situations that are outside of the airline’s control is even more ridiculous. In most cases, the delay would be weather related. If one airline can’t fly out, the odds are the other ones can’t either.

Lost and damaged bags

Passenger rights in Canada also cover lost and damaged bags. However, the rules are very specific, so you need to pay attention when making a claim.

Damaged bags

  • Claims must be made within seven days of receiving your baggage

Bagge delays within 21 days

  • When flying internationally, you must submit a claim within 21 days of receiving your baggage
  • Domestic travellers should file a claim as soon as possible
  • If your bag is not returned within 21 days, it’s considered lost

If your bags are delayed or damaged, airlines must compensate you up to $2,350. While this amount may seem generous, you can’t make a claim until you get your bags back, and you have no idea if they’ll ever arrive. This will stress out many travellers. That’s why having travel insurance is so essential, as you’ll know exactly what you’re entitled to before you take off. 

How to make a claim

Based on the rules above, you should make a claim as soon as possible. Note that airlines have 30 days to respond, so you should be able to get an answer relatively quickly.

Just about every airline has a page dedicated to compensation claims which would have a form that you need to fill out. Here’s a link to some of the most popular airlines’ compensation pages:

As mentioned, airlines will use every loophole possible to deny you compensation. If you believe you’re rightfully owed compensation, but the airline refuses it, you’ll need to file a dispute with the Canadian Transportation Agency.

Travel insurance as an alternative

While air passenger rights in Canada can provide compensation, it could be weeks or even months before you get it. That doesn’t help the person whose plane has been delayed until the next morning, and they’re not being provided with a hotel room. Nor will it help the person who has a business meeting in the morning, but whose suit is currently in their delayed baggage.

The airlines might provide some compensation, but that’s not guaranteed. However, if you had travel insurance, you’ll know exactly what you’re entitled to. For example, take a look at the travel insurance included with the American Express Platinum Card.

Emergency Medical Insurance$5,000,000 - 15 days / Under 65
Trip Cancellation Insurance$2,500 per person / $5,000 total
Trip Interruption Insurance$2,500 per person / $6,000 total
Flight Delay Insurance$1,000 - 4 hours +
Baggage Delay Insurance$1,000 - 6 hours +
Lost or Stolen Baggage Insurance$1,000 combined per occurrence
Car Rental Theft Damage Insurance$85,000 - 48 days
Hotel/Motel Burglary Insurance$1,000 per occurrence
Travel Accident InsuranceUp to $500,000

Let’s say you have this insurance, and your flight is delayed for four hours. You’ll know that you’re entitled to up to $1,000 in reasonable expenses. That would include things such as a hotel, meals, and even entertainment.

The same thing applies to your baggage. If it’s delayed by six hours, you could start making reasonable purchases up to $1,000. That would include toiletries, clothes, business attire, beachwear, etc.

To make a claim, you’d need evidence of your delay, so take screenshots of your updated itinerary. Alternatively, you could save any emails from the airline about the delays. When you’re back home, you would just fill out a claim form. Note that with credit card travel insurance, you usually need to charge a set amount of your travel expenses to your credit card for the insurance to be valid. 

Not every credit card includes travel insurance, but some of the more popular ones include:

Scotiabank Passport™ Visa Infinite* Card

  • $150 annual fee
  • 25,000 Scene+ points when spending $1,000 in the first 3 months
  • 10,000 points when spending $40,000 in the first year
  • Earn 3 Scene+ points per $1 spent at Empire owned supermarkets
  • Earn 2 Scene+ points per $1 spent on eligible grocery stores, dining, entertainment, and daily transit purchases
  • Earn 1 Scene+ point per $1 spent on all other eligible purchases
  • Visa Airport Companion Program membership + 6 passes per year
  • No foreign transaction fees

The Scotiabank Passport Visa Infinite card is a popular choice for travellers since it has no foreign transaction fees. The delayed and lost baggage insurance kicks in after only four hours. However, flight/trip delay trip insurance only covers up to $500. On a positive note, this card often waives the annual fee for the first year, so it’s a great card for those looking for an alternative to air passenger rights in Canada.

National Bank World Elite Mastercard

  • $150 annual fee
  • Earn 5 points per $1 spent on grocery and restaurant purchases up to $2,500 per month. Then earn 2 points per $1 spent
  • Earn 2 points per $1 spent on gas, electric vehicle charging, recurring bills and à la carte Travel
  • Earn 1 point per $1 spent on all other purchases
  • Unlimited access to National Bank Lounge at Montreal-Trudeau airport
  • Annual $150 travel credit

For those looking for the best travel insurance, you should consider the National Bank World Elite Mastercard. The included travel medical insurance covers travellers under the age of 55 for 60 days. If you’re between the ages of 55 and 64, you’re covered for 31 days. Those between the age of 65 and 75 get 15 days. This is significant because most credit cards only provide three days of insurance for those 65+. As for the extended travel insurance, it’s pretty standard.

About Barry Choi

Barry Choi is a Toronto-based personal finance and travel expert who frequently makes media appearances. His blog Money We Have is one of Canada’s most trusted sources when it comes to money and travel. You can find him on Twitter:@barrychoi

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