A look at compensation, accommodation and who gets it when flights are cancelled
Kathleen Lucero wasn’t too concerned when her first flight cancellation hit.
She and her son had spent a week visiting family in Calgary and were scheduled to fly Porter Airlines to Toronto and on to Ottawa for the return to Gatineau, Que. on February 26th.
Lucero said their itinerary had to be postponed due to a flight crew shortage and the couple was rebooked to February 28. Then to March 1st. Then to March 2nd.
“It’s been canceled three times, rebooked three times,” she said last week.
Cancellations and delays are usually an expected part of air travel.
But dozens of people like Lucero sent details of their own travel woes to CBC Calgary after detailing a story of how WestJet sent passengers of a one-hour canceled flight with an eight-hour bus ride to their destination last week.
Tom Oommen of the Canadian Transportation Agency (CTA) has heard many stories, but he said one is new.
“I’ve personally never heard of it,” he said. “But we only hear about things that passengers bring to us as complaints.”
Lucero’s situation was also unusual.
Eventually, she called the airline and booked a flight from Calgary to Toronto Pearson Airport on March 1. She then traveled south to Billy Bishop Toronto City Airport — about 15 miles southeast — to fly to Ottawa.
Because her first flight was delayed, she missed the second. So she booked another hotel room, got on a flight the next morning and came home on March 2nd.
Lucero submitted the costs she incurred – room and board – to the airline, but wasn’t sure what would be approved.
In a statement responding to the situation, Porter Airlines’ Brad Cicero said they were sorry to hear about the unusually long delay, adding that they will cover all reasonable expenses for room and board and ground transfers in Toronto would.
He said their automated booking system will postpone an entire itinerary – or two connecting flights – if even one of them is cancelled, so the system may have missed opportunities to shorten their trip. Passengers should check online what other options are available or ask the airline for help, he said.
According to Cicero, additional compensation will be available to Lucero for general flight delays. Lucero only needs to submit a claim through their website.
For others finding themselves in unusual travel situations, CBC Calgary asked people familiar with the airline industry to break down some of the regulations airlines follow.
Why flights are cancelled
The passenger protection regulations (APPR) – the standards for airlines operating in Canada – group flight disruptions into three distinct categories: situations within the airline’s control, within the airline’s control but required for safety reasons, such as unforeseen maintenance issues or pilot safety decisions, and outside of the airline’s control Airline.
Compensation varies depending on which category your flight falls into. According to the APPR, the airline must notify passengers of the reason for the flight disruption.
Sylvie De Bellefeuille, a lawyer at Option Consommateurs, a non-profit organization that campaigns for consumer rights, said situations inside airline control cost the airline the most.
“The only thing people need to know is that people need to ask the airline for compensation. So that’s the first step,” said De Bellefeuille.
CTA’s Oommen said the regulations require airlines to at least complete a customer’s itinerary.
“If a flight is canceled or delayed by more than three hours, an airline must offer alternative travel arrangements in the same class of service. They must rebook the passenger by a reasonable route on the next available flight operated by them or an airline with which they have a commercial agreement,” he said.
Airlines are also sometimes required to offer a rebooked flight on a competing airline or at another airport if they cannot complete a passenger’s journey within a reasonable time.
If passengers are not satisfied with the alternative travel arrangements, there are circumstances in which they can also request a refund or further compensation.
The remuneration is different
In some situations, passengers are entitled to a refund.
For disruptions other than those beyond an airline’s control, passengers can request a refund if the alternative flight offered does not meet their needs or if the delay eliminates the need to travel.
Sometimes passengers are awarded additional compensation if a delay or cancellation is within the airline’s control. These amounts — which range from $125 to $1,000 — depend on the airline (big or small) and how long the passenger is delayed reaching their final destination.
Staff shortages are generally within the airline’s control, according to John Gradek, an associate professor of aviation management at McGill University.
“A recent decision by the Canadian Transportation Agency (CTA) on a passenger’s appeal based on this airline statement was rejected as valid grounds for requesting non-payment of compensation,” Gradek said.
“In other words, the carrier is still on the hook to pay compensation.”
Airlines must also provide accommodation and transportation to those accommodations if a passenger has to wait overnight, as in the case of Lucero.
If you are unsatisfied with your answer
Passengers have one year to file a claim for compensation with the airline that operated their disrupted flight, and the airline has 30 days to respond.
If a passenger is not satisfied with the response or the airline has not responded, they can file a complaint with the CTA.
But be prepared to wait.
The agency had more than 40,000 complaints pending as of February 28, and the current wait time between the filing of a case and its review is more than 18 months.
They are evaluating solutions to the wait times, a CTA spokesman said in a statement, and expect to create efficiencies in the future.
“You can always go to court. The small claims court will take care of that,” Gradek said. “It will be a little more complicated, but probably faster.”
About 97 percent of complaints filed with the CTA are resolved informally, with only about 3 percent going through a formal decision-making process.