Canadian Government Moves Forward With Passenger Bill Of Rights

Transport Canada - Bill C-49 Passenger Bill of Rights

Passenger treatments have been a hot topic both in Canada and US. The headlines have focused on passengers’ rights during flight overlooking or denied boarding scenarios. Given the urgency, the Canadian Government moves forward with a second reading of Bill C-49 on May 16, 2017 which will pave the way to create a more formal air passenger bill of rights. This post discusses more about the bill, the current set of rights air passengers have and what the future entails.

Passenger Bill of Rights – Bill C-49

The bill is an enactment to amend The Canada Transportation Act in respect to both air and railway transportation. The most important parts of the Bill is highlighted below:

“With respect to air transportation, it amends the Canada Transportation Act to require the Canadian Transportation Agency to make regulations establishing a new air passenger rights regime and to authorize the Governor in Council to make regulations requiring air carriers and other persons providing services in relation to air transportation to report on different aspects of their performance with respect to passenger experience or quality of service. It amends the definition of Canadian in that Act in order to raise the threshold of voting interests in an air carrier that may be owned and controlled by non-Canadians while retaining its Canadian status, while also establishing specific limits related to such interests. It also amends that Act to create a new process for the review and authorization of arrangements involving two or more transportation undertakings providing air services to take into account considerations respecting competition and broader considerations respecting public interest.”

Current Status

The Canadian government created the Canada Transportation Act to regulate transportation including air and railways. Part II of the Act included regulations on all air passengers rights travelling on any Canadian carriers domestically and internationally. These rights are included as part of an airline (e.g. Air Canada, WestJet, Porter Airlines)’s “tariff” which serves as its contract with passengers. The tariffs contain all the terms and conditions on how an airline manages issues arisen from scenarios such as voluntary or involuntary denied boarding (“bumping”), delays, cancellations, passenger re-routing, and lost or damaged baggage.

At a minimum, all Canadian air carriers must:

  • Set tariff terms and conditions that respect certain legal requirements, are reasonable and fair, and applied the same way for everyone, as much as possible;
  • Clearly display the tariff at their offices and on their websites; and
  • Apply the terms and conditions of carriage as stated in their tariff.

Video on check-ins, delays, bumping and cancellations used by the Government of Canada

Back in 2012, the Canadian Transportation Agency ruled on the reasonableness of international tariff provisions of Air Canada, WestJet and Air Transat, and domestic tariff provisions of Air Canada and WestJet relating to the overbooking, cancellation, delay and rerouting of flights. Airlines amended their tariffs based on the ruling’s recommendations accordingly.

Here is a list of current versus past treatments on flight delays, overbooking and cancellation:

“In the event a flight is delayed, overbooked or cancelled:

  • Passengers can now choose whether they prefer a refund or to be rebooked to continue their trip. Prior to these decisions, it was left to the carriers’ discretion to either rebook passengers or give them a refund. Now, the carriers must allow passengers to choose which option they prefer: continuing their trip or obtaining a refund.

In certain cases, carriers must consider rebooking passengers on the first available flight(s), including flights with non-partnered carriers:

  • Prior to these decisions, the air carriers’ tariffs only provided for rebooking or rerouting  passengers on one of their own flights or one of their partner carrier flights. Now, the tariffs cannot be limited to only these rebooking options. The tariffs must now provide for the option of rebooking on a non-partnered carrier flight.

When overbooking or cancellation of a flight results in the passenger choosing to no longer travel:

  • Sometimes overbooking or cancellation may result in a passenger deciding that the trip is no longer worth taking. If this happens, the passenger will be entitled to a flight to go back home within a reasonable time, free of charge, and a full refund of the ticket price.

Tariffs need to clearly indicate to passengers what recourses they have when overbooking or cancellation situations occur:

  • Passengers should be able to fully understand their rights and the remedies available to them simply by reading the tariff, which is the contract between the carrier and the passenger. Tariffs need to clearly indicate what recourses passengers have in situations of cancellation or overbooking.
  • Carriers need to clearly spell out in their tariff, the options passengers have when overbooking and cancellation situations occur, including their legal rights and recourses under the Montreal Convention, the Warsaw Convention, or under the law, when neither convention applies.They have to also ensure that the applicable time limits for passengers to exercise their legal rights are those provided for by law. For example, the tariffs cannot impose a 30-day time limit to take legal action when the Montreal Convention provides a 2-year time limit.”

Besides resolving any issues directly with airlines, Transport Canada also offers governmental channels for passengers to file complaints on their air travel experiences.

Video on air travel related complaint process with Transport Canada

The Future

When Bill C-49 is approved and the Canadian Transportation Act is amended accordingly, a new Air Passenger Bill of Rights would be created. This Bill of Rights could be written similar to the European Union’s Flight Compensation Regulation 261/2004 which outlines the common rules on compensation and assistance to passengers in the event of denied boarding, flight cancellations, or long delays of flights. Depending on the flight distance and time span, passenger are entitled to a compensation ranges from €250 to €600.

The Canadian could also include guidelines to manage baggage related losses and delays. Both the public and the aviation community will likely be consulted for the government to find a balance between providing the right level of service and compensation for air travel issues without burdening providers unfairly.

There are many different types of fares available for would be passengers to purchase for travel. While tariffs are easily accessible during the ticket purchase process or in the airlines’ websites, they can be complex and not easily understandable. This significantly increases confusion and frustration when passengers’ expectations are not properly set and met by their experiences.

Airlines can strengthen communication in this area and educate passengers on their rights based on the fare purchased at the time of ticket purchase, during travel and after travel. Applying a consistent framework through training and available on the job guidelines would greatly improve passenger experience when disruptions occur at the airport. Finally, airlines should invest in technology tools and allow passengers more channels to find solutions to any issues experiences during flight overbooking, denied boarding, cancellation and delays.

What would you like to see in the Passenger Bill of Rights? Feel free comment below.