Flight Or Fight? Know your rights. - Macleans.ca

Flight Or Fight? Know your rights.

Hey Canadian airline passengers! You have rights!


In an environment where airlines can advertise prices that bear little relation to the actual final fare, where they can fund current operations with the money you paid for a future flight and then fail before you get your chance to fly, and where Transport Canada still does not track critical airline performance like on-time stats and lost-luggage figures, you still have rights!

With the usual fanfare surrounding consumer-friendly announcements just prior to an election call, Transport Minister Lawrence Cannon launched Flight Rights Canada last week. He described the program as “strengthening consumer protection for air travellers.” Gerry Byrne, the Newfoundland Liberal MP who launched the debate over a bill of rights for airline passengers with a private member’s bill, had a different take after reviewing Flight Rights Canada. He called it “trickery” and “a public relations exercise.”

Here’s how Cannon described the program in a press release: “Through Flight Rights Canada, air travellers will be reassured that options are available to them if they are inconvenienced. Consumer protection is important to our government and that’s why we are taking further action. The introduction of Flight Rights Canada will help make sure that air travellers know their rights as consumers, and that obligations of air carriers are reflected in how they provide services.”

Read it carefully, and it suggests there’s not much new. Michael Janigan, Executive Director and General Counsel for the Public Interest Advocacy Centre (PIAC), says that’s because there isn’t anything new.

“My impression is that this is old wine in a new bottle,” he told TakeOffeh. “The program helps to consolidate and increase awareness of complaint procedures, and that’s important, but to promote it as a panacea is misleading. Most of the things you want to complain about are not covered.”

The biggest complaints about the program are that it doesn’t address the real problems impacting Canadian air travellers. Over three years ago in the wake of the Jetsgo failure, a group of more than a dozen travel industry and consumer groups formed a coalition dubbed the Traveller’s Protection Initiative. It offered what it called “six simple solutions,” including greater financial monitoring of airline financial health, protection for advance ticket purchases, full price disclosure in advertising and a federal compensation fund for when airlines fail.

Three years later, and in the wake of the Zoom Airlines failure that left thousands of Canadians stranded and thousands of others with useless tickets, none of the “six simple solutions” have been enacted. As PIAC’s Janigan puts it: “This is not a consumer-friendly environment.”

Here is a list of what is covered by Flight Rights Canada, and what will be promoted in a poster campaign in ‘key’ Canadian airports:

  • Passengers have a right to information on flight times and schedule changes. Airlines must make reasonable efforts to inform passengers of delays and schedule changes and the reasons for them.
  • Passengers have a right to take the flight they paid for. If the plane is over-booked or cancelled, the airline must find the passenger a seat on another of its flights, buy a seat on another carrier or refund the unused portion of the passenger’s ticket.
  • Passengers have a right to punctuality. If a delay exceeds 4 hours, the airline must offer a meal voucher. If the delay is more than 8 hours and involves an overnight stay, the airline will pay for a hotel and transfers for passengers who did not start their travel at that airport. If a delay occurs when the plane is already loaded, the airline is to offer drinks and snacks. If the delay exceeds 90 minutes, the airline should offer passengers the option of disembarking until departure time.
  • Passengers have a right to retrieve their luggage quickly. If luggage does not arrive, the airline should deliver luggage to the passenger ASAP. Passengers should be updated on luggage status and given an over-night kit as required.
  • If a passenger complaint is not resolved, passengers can contact the Canadian Transportation Agency at 1-888-222-2592 or by e-mail at info@cta-otc.gc.ca.

You should note that if inclement weather or “the acts of third parties” are the causes of cancellations or delays, the above rules do not apply. Most industry observers feel that is fair enough, though some wonder if airlines may stretch the definition of “inclement.”

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Flight Or Fight? Know your rights.

  1. This is stupid. Let caplitalism determine the airlines’ performance metrics. Make it easier for new airlines to start up, and then the competition will force all of them to provide better service.

    The only legal rights I want with respect to an airline are my basic rights as a citizen: don’t imprison me on a plane stuck on the tarmac for 4 hours with no food, and then refuse to let me leave once I get fed up with waiting. This happened to me once due to an initial delay that caused a series of shift schedules to over-run their union-mandated maxima. At the time I just read a book, but if it ever happens again I’m going to open the emergency exit, leave the plane, and fight the inevitable court battle.

    • Being trapped on an airplane for hours on end while a bunch of unionized whiners quibble over their work rules is infuriating. I buy a ticket to fly on an airplane, as such this should not be understood to mean that I am giving up my basic freedoms. Let us pray that Mr. Harper does as he says he will and significantly abridges the rights of these union people to engage in industrial action.

      • I work for an airline and yes there are instances where union mandated rules might interfere with operations but not very often. The duty cycles of flight and cabin crew of which both of you guys speak is for your safety. Do you really want your flight crew (including pilot and copilot) falling asleep. Take a second to consider how one flight you make fatigues you, then times that by ten and you’re looking at the impact on flight crew. I understand the annoyance of being delayed, been there myself but at the same time, you have to understand that it’s 90% about your safety. If a flight is delayed, theres a reason, be glad you’re not flying. There’s an abundance of cheap crappy airlines that slash prices and cut corners, that’s not stimulating competition, thats endangering your life.

        • No one is arguing that delays are unjustified. The point is that passengers are free citizens, so if the flight is delayed it is wrong to imprison us on the plane while it waits at the terminal. This is what Air Canada has done in the past. If it ever happens to me again, I am getting out of the plane once the delay exceeds 45 minutes, rules or no rules. No flight attendant is going to tell me otherwise once I choose to leave.

          As for the delays themselves, let the market decide. In my case described above, it was the non-flying personnel that had a shift change and walked off. There was no one to close the door of the plane from the outside, so we waited for four hours. It was absurd, and it had nothing to do with safety.

          • There had to be something else going on, a shift change doesn’t take 4 hours. I’m not disputing that delays are a pain, and I agree that rules in the industry have to change to make these delays easier on the passengers but there are rules and regulations handed down by aviation authorities all over the world that an airline cannot disobey. I’m not speaking about all passengers but there would be plenty, once allowed to disembark would cry bloody murder when they have to go through the boarding process again. The reason air travel is the safest form of travel is because every action has procedures and consequences that for the most part the customer will never see, that might seem like common sense, but I don’t think anyone has any idea how much goes on. It’s definitely an industry that is go go go all the time. Don’t get me wrong here guys, it does suck, and I do feel for anyone who is stranded or held up and yes, airlines do make mistakes, but I really do think theres too much bad press for no reason at all.

  2. I complained to carrier first and then write a complain to Canadian Transportation Agency . They said they have thousands of complain in que and I have wait until all the complaines will be resolved. Even they do not accept my complain. This looks horrable in advance country like Canada.
    Canadian Transportation Agency replied is as below. I know end result of my complain but still I have hope.

    As previously explained, files are assigned on a “first in first out”
    basis. Your file is in queue awaiting assignment to a case officer. Once
    your file is assigned to a Case Officer for handling, they will contact

    you to introduce
    him/her-self, provide his/her direct contact information, clarify the
    issues raised in your complaint, remind you of the Agency’s role and
    jurisdiction in the resolution of an air travel complaint.