As new rules on compensating air passengers take effect, critics say it's not enough

·3 min read

MONTREAL — Returning to St. John's, N.L., from France's Charles de Gaulle airport via Montreal earlier this summer, Air Canada customer AnDe Mosher's flight was cancelled.

She was left in Paris for an extra three days, then spent another day in Montreal before ending up in Fredericton — still 1,700 kilometres away from home. She eventually reached St. John's four days after her original flight.

Two months later, Mosher has yet to receive compensation for the rescheduling, hotels and additional travel expenses. She's not happy about it.

“You don’t get stuck in a foreign country for four days and have people treat you that way and just let it go.”

New rules from the Canadian Transportation Agency that took effect Thursday are intended to prevent Mosher's experience from happening to others, but some critics say the regulations still do not go far enough.

The federal transportation regulator in 2019 unveiled the original Air Passenger Protection Regulations, which outlined how airlines must communicate and reimburse or compensate travellers for everything from delayed flights to damaged luggage. There were exemptions, however, for delays and cancellations outside of the airline's control such as major weather events — or a pandemic.

The updated guidelines are an attempt to close a loophole that left some passengers unable to secure cash refunds after pandemic-related flight delays and cancellations. Now, airlines will be required to issue a full refund for cancellations and delays if passengers are not placed on a new flight within 48 hours, including for reasons outside of the airline's control.

“Passengers have rights and they need to be respected,” said Transport Minister Omar Alghabra in a statement. “Our government was the one who put in place the Air Passenger Protection Regulations in 2019 to ensure their rights are safeguarded throughout their travel journey.”

However, critics said that Canada is far behind other countries in terms of air passenger rights.

"No other western country would have something so absurd," said air passenger rights advocate Gabor Lukacs. "If you look at the U.S., Israel and Turkey, they all must refund the passenger no matter the reason."

Mosher has now begun the process of filing a complaint against Air Canada to small claims court. Rather than solving such issues, Lukacs says that the new regulations will likely increase the number of litigations between airlines and passengers.

Mosher and Lukacs are not alone in their criticism of the regulation's updates.

The president and CEO of the National Airline Council of Canada said he is disappointed with the new regulations.

"For us, the real concern is that there is really a lack of accountability among the broader air transportation system and so these new regulations are really going to be punitive on just one actor in a much broader system,” Jeff Morrison said.

WestJet echoed Morrison's concerns. The airline is "disappointed the changes do not reflect the shared responsibility that all parties involved have in the travel journey," said Morgan Bell, manager of media and public relations.

Alghabra said that an additional $11 million in resources for the CTA has been added to the 2022 budget, given rising passenger numbers.

However, as Mosher begins to file her claim against Air Canada with small claims court, she is still not convinced the regulator will take significant action.

“Until the CTA has some teeth and can cause Air Canada to do what they’re required to do, changing the regulations to require them to do something isn’t going to make any difference," says Mosher. "It’s just words.”

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Sept. 8, 2022.

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Caitlin Yardley, The Canadian Press

Note to readers: This is a corrected story. A previous version included an inaccurate example of a distribution excluded from refunds.