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Traveling brings up a number of legal issues that are sometimes made more complicated when we cross international borders. If you have questions relating to your travelling rights, it’s important to speak to a lawyer about your circumstances (Disclaimer: the following info isn’t legal advice, and doesn’t take the place of consulting a lawyer in your area).

For many years, we’ve heard horror stories of stranded passengers stuck on the tarmac for hours without food, water or working bathrooms. Now, the federal government has put in place new laws that are being called a passenger bill of rights in Canada. Many of these rules took effect on July 15, 2019, and there’s more to come in December. These new rules aim to clarify passengers’ rights and entitlements when things go wrong – and we all know that when traveling, things can definitely go wrong.

Overbooked flights

The major thing passengers worry about is the situation where you’ve booked a ticket on a flight, only to be told at the airport that you’ve been bumped because the flight has been oversold. Under the new rules, if a flight is oversold, the airline has to ask for volunteers to be bumped to a later flight. And getting bumped comes with compensation: $900 for a delay of zero to six hours, $1,800 for a delay of six to nine hours, and $2,400 for a delay of longer than nine hours. It’s key to point out that airlines have to put the compensation they offer in writing, which takes a lot of the headache of chasing compensation out of the equation for passengers.

Communication with passengers

Another change that’s been made recently is the need for better communication with passengers. If there’s a pre-boarding delay, passengers have to be informed and they have to be updated at most every 30 minutes. This is good news for passengers who hate waiting and wondering what’s going on, which is pretty much every traveler out there.

Tarmac delays

Anyone who has experienced a delay on the tarmac knows that there’s nothing more frustrating than being stuck on a plane. Sometimes there’s lack of food, water and functioning washrooms, and to make matters worse – communication with the outside world is limited. Under the new rules, tarmac delays have to be capped at three hours, or three hours and forty-five minutes in the event that it is likely that takeoff will happen within that additional forty-five minutes. After this point, the plane has to return to the gate and let passengers off. The rules also say that the conditions on the airplane have to include enough food and water, ventilation (heating/cooling), working washrooms and the ability to communicate if feasible, such as by providing free Wi-Fi.

Compensation

Come December, we’ll see a compensation scheme kick in for delays and cancelled flights. Compensation will be up to $1,000 for a major airline or $500 for a smaller airline, and will depend on the length of the delay. And now, lost bags on domestic flights could be compensated up to $2,100, which used to be available only for lost bags on international flights.

Many have welcomed these new rules with open arms, while some think that the new rules don’t go far enough. The rules do clarify the type of treatment passengers can expect in all of these situations, but generally, compensation is limited to circumstances that are within an airline’s control. In other words, if you’re delayed or your flight’s been cancelled because of bad weather, the airline wouldn’t be responsible for compensation. Some wonder how easy or difficult it’ll be for an airline to claim that a delay isn’t within its control, and we’ll have to wait and see what happens to know whether the rules should be made stricter. Some in the airline industry are also challenging these new rules, saying that they violate international standards, and ultimately a judge will have to decide whether that’s the case.

Traveling can be stressful at the best of times, and is made worse when there are hiccups in getting to or from a destination. The new passenger bill of rights improves communication with passengers and gives everyone a clearer sense of what compensation should be given in the event that something goes wrong that’s within the airline’s control. So how will these rules affect air travel? Only time will tell, but at least now we have a better sense of what we can expect.