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Amid travel chaos, regulator unveils new passenger rights rules to close refund ‘gap’

Canada’s transport regulator is aiming to bolster its passenger bill of rights, imposing tougher rules around airline reimbursement – although some supporters say the rules don’t match frameworks in other countries .

New regulations effective Sept. 8 will require carriers to refund passengers or rebook them, at the traveller’s option, if a flight is canceled or significantly delayed, the Canadian Transportation Agency announced Wednesday.

Previously, the passenger rights regime only required reimbursements for flight disruptions that were within the airline’s control, which excluded situations ranging from weather conditions to war to unforeseen mechanical problems.

“These regulations will close the gap in Canada’s air passenger protection regime highlighted by the COVID-19 pandemic and ensure that even in the event of cancellations and extended delays that are beyond the airline’s control, passengers will be protected if the airline cannot complete its itinerary within a time limit. reasonable time,” said France Pégeot, president of the agency, in a press release.

Thousands of Canadians have faced a slew of long flight delays and cancellations as airlines and security and customs agencies struggle to manage a staff shortage amid the recent surge in travel , an issue that should leave summer travelers unprotected from the new rules, which only come in the fall.

The regulations will require airlines to offer a rebooking or refund within 30 days if they cannot provide a rebooking within 48 hours of a flight cancellation or “long delay”.

Any unused portion of a ticket must be covered, including “any paid unused additional service”, the regulator said. And a refund must be the same as the original payment method. This means that a credit card purchase could not be refunded with a travel voucher, as most Canadian airlines did for almost a year from March 2020 amid hundreds of thousands of passengers. cancellations triggered by the pandemic.

Canadian Automobile Association Vice-President Ian Jack called the revised charter a “very good but limited step forward” in protecting passengers because while airlines will be forced to pay refunds, they can still avoid paying compensation between $400 and $1,000 due to factors beyond their control. .

“There’s an incentive here for carriers to report mechanical issues…As a passenger, it’s very difficult for you to verify that,” Jack said.

His advocacy group is calling on Ottawa to force airlines to publish data on delays and cancellations, as the United States does, to encourage competition and reveal any disproportionate numbers.

Gabor Lukacs, chairman of the air passenger rights group, called the new framework a “sham”.

He said requiring a refund or rebooking only if the airline cannot guarantee another seat on a plane that departs within two days of the original departure time does not meet the needs of travelers in situations ranging from weekend visits to short work trips.

“For a Friday flight, if the flight is canceled, the airline can offer the passenger a one-way flight for Sunday which the passenger can never take because he works on Monday. And the airline can still pocket the money, “said Lukacs in an interview.

“We live in a very fast paced world. A few hours late means you don’t have access to a funeral, a wedding, a court hearing.”

The European Union requires airlines to provide an airplane seat within five hours of initial departure – not 48 – or a refund must be offered.

In the EU and the United States, passengers must also be reimbursed for a flight cancellation within seven days instead of 30 under the new Canadian regime.

The CTA acknowledged that the change does not align with EU or US requirements, but said it takes into account the realities of Canadian carriers.

“(They) may be required to provide multiple refunds at once due to weather-related disruptions,” the agency says in its regulatory impact analysis.

Airlines argue that the Air Passenger Protection Regulations, which came into force in 2019, already go too far.

Canadian carriers asked a Federal Court of Appeal panel in April to strike down rules that strengthen compensation for passengers who suffer from delayed flights and damaged baggage.

Air Canada and Porter Airlines Inc., along with 16 other callers, said the passenger bill of rights violates global standards and should be struck down for international flights.

Under three-year federal rules, passengers must be compensated up to $2,400 if they were denied boarding — known as bumped flight — because a trip was overbooked, and receive up to $2,100 for lost or damaged baggage. Delays and other payments for canceled flights warrant compensation of up to $1,000.

This report from The Canadian Press was first published on June 22, 2022.

Companies in this story: (TSX:AC)

Christopher Reynolds, The Canadian Press

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