'Airline has to buy the passenger a ticket': What you need to know if your flight gets cancelled or delayed

Airlines, not airports are to blame for the chaos and confusion, expert says

'Airline has to buy the passenger a ticket': What you need to know if your flight gets cancelled or delayed

The major strain that's been impacting Canadian airlines this year as people started travelling again has been nothing compared to this past week of holiday season chaos.

Cancelled flights, endless lines, mountains of missing baggage and passengers stranded for days appears to be the norm at most major airports across the country. It's left many wondering: With all the pandemonium airports have experienced through the last year leading up to this, why couldn't there have been more preventative planning?

Gabor Lukacs is the president of Air Passenger Rights, a non-profit group that helps educate and advocate for airline travellers. He says what's happening right now at airports like Vancouver's, aside from poor weather conditions, is poor organization on the part of the airlines.

“It's obvious that with the current weather in B.C. and in Toronto, planes cannot take off and they cannot land, that’s a matter of safety,” he tells Yahoo Canada News.

It’s a completely different matter when people are stranded on the tarmac for 10 or 12 hours, that’s poor planning because the airline should not have boarded on a flight that didn't have a clear plan for de-boarding if they cannot take off.Gabor Lukacs, President of Air Passenger Rights non-profit group

While flights cancelled due to weather conditions are reasonable, it becomes questionable when some airlines cancel their flights to certain destinations, but others continue to fly there.

“It’s not like airlines have such capabilities that one airline would be forced to cancel and others would not,” he says. “If it cannot, then it’s within the carrier’s control and not the weather.”

Lukacs says that if it becomes clear, based on sound methodological information that’s available, that there’s no reasonable hope that the flights are going to depart or land, then those flights should not be presented to the public as if they’re still scheduled.

“That means passengers will be at the airport, instead of the comfort of their home,” he says.

What you need to know as a passenger: Airlines should be paying

Aside from tarmac delays, another major airline-based issue Lukacs is seeing an abundance of is the failure to rebook passengers. Under the Air Passenger Protection Regulations, if a flight is cancelled based on weather, or other conditions outside of the carrier’s control, the airline has to give passengers the option to be booked on the next available flight. If they cannot find a flight on their own network, the airline has to buy the passenger a ticket on another airline, if there’s one available.

“I expect both airlines (Air Canada and Westjet) to be battling this provision to some degree,” Lukacs says. “The latest question is, how is the government going to respond to that?”

Under the law, the airline can be fined up to $25,000 per incident, per passenger. But whether that’s going to happen remains to be seen.

“The passengers rights are there in the books but they’re not being enforced and that’s a particular concern,” he says.

While passengers can be compensated for lost luggage, not being offered alternative transportation when there are options available is against the law.

Lukacs isn’t confident the Canadian Transportation Agency will hold airlines accountable, as “they’re treating the airlines as untouchable, as if they’re above the law.” He adds that there’s no real evidence that airports are doing anything wrong in the current holiday chaos. Even functions like refuelling are done by subcontractors of the airport.

“Airlines love pointing fingers to other players but I don’t see any evidence of that happening here,” he says. “For delayed passengers it looks like it’s the airport’s fault but actually, for the vast majority of these functions it’s the subcontractors for the airlines and so, the responsibility is on the airline.”