FAQs: Air passenger protection regulations

Table of contents

Background

Q1. Why has the Canadian Transportation Agency (CTA) developed these proposed regulations?

New provisions of the Canada Transportation Act, which were added by the Transportation Modernization Act, mandate the CTA to develop air passenger protection regulations setting out airlines' obligations with respect to communication with passengers, flight delays and cancellations, denied boarding, tarmac delays over three hours, the seating of children under 14 with a parent or guardian, lost or damaged baggage, and the transportation of musical instruments.

For most of these categories, the law states that the regulations should prescribe minimum standards of treatment. For several (flight delays or cancellations and denied boarding that are within the airline's control and not required for safety reasons, lost or damaged baggage), the law also provides for minimum levels of compensation.

The CTA identified four principles to guide development of the new air passenger protection regime: clarity, transparency, fairness, and consistency.

Q2. What is the current regime for air passenger protection and how would it change?

The Canada Transportation Act requires that each airline set out its own terms and conditions of carriage in a legal document called a tariff.  Under the current system, passengers can complain to the CTA if they think an airline hasn't respected its own tariff, or if they think the terms of that tariff aren't reasonable. The CTA will try to resolve the matter quickly through facilitation or mediation. If these relatively informal dispute resolution methods don't work, the case may go to adjudication, a court-like process that results in a binding decision.

In the future, the regulations would provide a common set of minimum obligations to passengers that would apply to all airlines.

Airlines would be required to respect these minimum obligations, which would be enforceable by administrative monetary penalties (AMPs).

Q3. Are there any similar regimes in other countries?

Rules to protect air passengers have been implemented in other jurisdictions. The European Union (EU), for example, has had an air passenger protection regime in place – including minimum standards of treatment and compensation for passengers whose flights are delayed – since 2004.  The United States (US) has had rules to protect air passengers – including with respect to tarmac delays, denied boarding, and communication with passengers – since 2009.

Q4. Why not simply copy the rules in the US or the EU?

Parliament has created a framework for made-in-Canada air passenger protection regulations.

The CTA has drawn on best practices and lessons learned in other jurisdictions as part of the regulatory development process. We have also carefully considered the feedback received from the travelling public, including persons with disabilities, consumer rights groups, and the airline industry.

Process

Q5. Did the CTA consult on these regulations?

Yes. On May 28, 2018, the CTA launched an intensive three-month consultation period to inform the development of the regulations. The consultation process provided multiple channels for input and resulted in extensive engagement by Canadians and stakeholders:

  • Dedicated website: The Air Passenger Protection website included a discussion paper, questionnaire and link to upload comments. There were 30,874 web visits, 4,923 completed online questionnaires and 463 comments submitted online.
  • In-person and call-in sessions: In-person consultations took place in 8 cities across Canada (Toronto, Winnipeg, Vancouver, Calgary, Yellowknife, Halifax, Montréal and Ottawa). 203 members of the public registered for these sessions.
  • Airport surveys: 930 randomly-selected travellers took part in airport surveys held in 11 Canadian airports. 
  • Stakeholder meetings: 39 bilateral consultation meetings took place with consumer advocacy groups, airlines and industry associations, EU and US officials, and experts.
  • Written submissions: 104 formal written submissions were received from consumer advocacy groups, airlines and industry associations, and other interested stakeholders.

Q6. What did the CTA hear during consultations?

There is general consensus among individual travellers that:

  • Clear, concise, accurate and regular communication from air carriers is important to ensure that passengers know their rights at various stages of the travel process, particularly when issues arise.
  • Compensation should be fair, reflect losses and inconvenience and deter the practice of overbooking.
  • Tarmac delays beyond three hours should not be permitted, and air carriers should be required to provide necessities such as food, water, lavatories and proper ventilation before three hours.
  • Children under 14 should be seated near their parent or guardian at no extra charge; proximity should be age-dependent.
  • Complaints processes should be simple, clear and consistent and there should be penalties for air carrier non-compliance.
  • The regulations should be developed taking into account the accessibility-related needs of persons with disabilities.

Consumer advocates generally agree that:

  • Air carrier obligations should be equivalent to or exceed requirements in other jurisdictions (e.g., EU, US) and not conflict with the Montreal Convention.
  • Communication of passenger rights must be done in simple, concise and clear language.
  • Compensation should reflect the length of flight delay, with cash as the primary payment form.
  • Non-compliance must be addressed through clear, simple, fair and effective complaint and enforcement mechanisms.

The following are key views and comments generally raised by air carriers and their representatives:

  • Air carriers are only one of many players impacting flights (others include airport authorities, security, customs, air navigation services, extraordinary circumstances). The regulations should reflect this complex system and not solely penalize air carriers for disruptions attributable to others or multiple factors.
  • The proposed regulations should not apply to situations outside of Canadian jurisdiction (e.g. a tarmac delay in an airport outside of Canada) or flights operated by foreign carriers originating outside of Canada and should recognize the exclusivity of the Montreal Convention for international travel.
  • The regime should not hinder the ability of air carriers to innovate, compete and distinguish themselves in the marketplace.
  • Potential unintended consequences of prescriptive regulations, including flow-through costs to passengers, should be considered.
  • Application of the new regime to all types of air carriers would ensure consistency but could reduce the viability of small, low-cost, regional, remote and northern air carriers.
  • Air carriers should be given the opportunity to comment on the regulations themselves, including cost implications. They should also have sufficient lead time to make the necessary adjustments to their IT systems, training, and processes before having to comply with the new regulations.

Q7. How long will it take for the new regulations to be implemented? 

Provisions of the new regulations will come into effect in summer 2019.

Q8. What are the next steps in this process?

On December 22, 2018, the proposed Air Passenger Protection Regulations were pre-published in Part I of the Canada Gazette. The regulations are not final or in effect at this time. The pre-publication period allowed anyone interested to provide comments on the draft regulations to the CTA at consultations@otc-cta.gc.ca. The comment period ended on February 20, 2019. The CTA is now considering input received and possible adjustments to the proposed regulations.

Following approval by CTA Members and the Governor in Council (Cabinet), likely in spring 2019, the final regulations will be posted on the CTA's website and published in Part II of the Canada Gazette

Q9. What happens to passengers until the new regulations come into force?

Until the new regulations are in effect, the current system continues to apply, and the CTA is here to help passengers with issues that cannot be resolved directly with airlines. Air travel complaints can be filed through a user-friendly online form.

Q10. Where can I get more information?

For more information on the consultations that were conducted to develop the proposed air passenger protection regulations, consult the CTA's discussion paper on consumer protection for air travellers and the What We Heard Report.

For more information on the CTA's services for air passengers, visit the CTA's air travel page.

Be sure to follow along with the Air Passenger Protection milestones to stay up to date!

Application

Q11. To which airlines would these regulations apply?

The proposed regulations would apply to all flights to, from and within Canada, including connecting flights. This includes certain charter flights on which one or more seats are for resale to the public, namely charter flights within Canada and flights to and from Canada that are a part of a charter originating in Canada. Passengers would be able to receive any compensation owed under these regulations if they have not already received compensation for the same event under a different passenger rights regime.

Q12. Would large and small airlines have to follow the same requirements?

Large airlines fly more than nine out of ten Canadian air passengers.  Small airlines tend to serve northern and remote locations, or to be in the fledgling ultra low cost carrier sector.  Most of the rules would apply in exactly the same way to large and small airlines, but taking into account their distinct operating circumstances, there would be some differences in compensation and rebooking requirements.

Q13. How would passengers know which are large and small carriers?

For this regime, large airlines would be airlines that have transported at least one million passengers in each of the two preceding years, as well as those operating a flight or carrying passengers on large airlines' behalf through a commercial agreement. All other airlines are small.

Each airline would have to communicate to passengers whether they fall into the category of large or small airline.

New Requirements

Q14. How would the regulations ensure passengers receive key travel information?

The regulations would require that airlines communicate in a simple, clear way with passengers regarding their rights and the recourse available to them, and to provide the reasons for flight delays and cancellations. During delays, airlines would be required to provide regular status updates. Airlines would be required to ensure that communication is accessible to persons with disabilities. 

Q15. What treatment would airlines be required to provide during a flight delay?

The regulations would establish minimum treatment that airlines would have to provide to passengers for delays within their control, including those required for safety purposes. This minimum treatment would have to be provided whether passengers are waiting in the airport or in a plane on the tarmac.

After a delay at departure of two hours, airlines would have to provide:

  • food and drink in reasonable quantities; and
  • electronic means of communication (e.g. free Wi-Fi).

If a delay is expected to extend overnight, airlines would also have to offer hotel or comparable accommodation free of charge, as well as free transportation to the accommodation.

Q16. When would airlines have to pay passengers compensation?

When there is a flight delay, cancellation or denial of boarding that is within the control of the airline and not required for safety purposes, airlines would have to provide compensation for inconvenience.

Q17. How much compensation would be required for delays and cancellations?

For delays and cancellations within the carrier's control and not required for safety purposes, the airline would be required to pay passengers compensation based on the length of delay at arrival:

Large Airlines Small Airlines
Length of delay Amount (CAD) Length of delay Amount (CAD)
3-6 hours $400 3-6 hours $125
6-9 hours $700 6-9 hours $250
9+ hours $1000 9+ hours $500

Q18. What is denied boarding?

Denied boarding occurs when the number of passengers present for boarding exceeds the number of seats available on a flight. This does not include situations where a passenger is refused transport for safety, security or health reasons.

Q19. How would the regulations address the practice denying a passenger boarding without their agreement because of things like over-booking?

To minimize situations where passengers are denied boarding against their will, airlines would be obligated to first seek volunteers willing to give up their seat. Airlines would also have to establish and follow a priority boarding list (for example, persons with disabilities, families travelling together and unaccompanied minors would have to be considered last for denied boarding). 

Airlines would also be prevented from removing passengers already on board, except for safety, security or health reasons.

Q20. How much compensation would be required for denied boarding?

Any passenger who is denied boarding against their will for a reason that is within the airline's control and not required for safety – for example, overbooking or a change in aircraft due to scheduled maintenance – would be entitled to compensation. A passenger's compensation would be based on the length of delay at arrival.

Length of delay Amount (CAD)
0-6 hours $900
6-9 hours $1800
9+ hours $2400

Q21. How long would an airline have to issue a compensation payment?

For delays and cancellations, a passenger would have 120 days to make a compensation claim with the airline. The airline would have 30 days to respond by issuing a payment or indicating why it believes compensation is not owed.

For denied boarding, airlines would have to issue compensation at the time the passenger is notified that they are denied boarding. The amount of compensation would have to be supplemented if a passenger's delay at arrival is longer than was expected when payment was issued. If payment cannot be made before the passenger's new departure time, the airline would be required to issue the payment within 48 hours.

Q22. In what form would compensation have to be provided?

Airlines would have to offer passengers compensation in monetary form (e.g., cheque, a deposit into the passenger's bank account, etc.). They could also offer passengers alternative forms of compensation (e.g., vouchers or rebates), but passengers would always have  the right to select what they prefer. As well, alternative forms of compensation offered would have to be of higher value than the monetary compensation that is required, and could never expire.

Q23. Would airlines be required to rebook delayed passengers?

For all delays, cancellations and denied boarding situations, airlines would have to ensure passengers reach their final destination. If a flight is cancelled, a passenger is denied boarding or a delay at departure reaches three hours, an airline would have to offer to rebook the passenger on their next available flight.

If the situation is within the airline's control, whether or not it's related to safety requirements, large airlines would have to rebook the passenger on another (competing) airline if their own next available flight departs nine or more hours after the passenger's original departure time.

If the situation is outside the airline's control, large airlines would be required to rebook using the services of another (competing) airline, if their own next available flight doesn't depart within 48 hours.

Q24. What happens if a passenger does not want to be rebooked by the airline?

If the rebooking offered by the airline does not meet a passenger's travel needs (e.g., if there is no longer any purpose to the travel), the passenger would be entitled to a refund, as well as compensation for inconvenience: $400 for large airlines and $125 for small airlines.

Q25. What would airlines be required to do during a tarmac delay?

The regulations would ensure that during tarmac delays -- whether they occur in Canada or abroad -- passengers are properly treated.  Every airline would be obligated to have policies addressing passenger entitlements during tarmac delays, which the CTA would be able to review and, if it finds the policies to be unreasonable, could change through an order.  In addition, standards of treatment would have to include, at minimum, access to working lavatories, proper ventilation and heating or cooling, food and drink, and the ability to communicate with people outside the plane free of charge by the time the tarmac delay exceeds three hours.

After a three hour tarmac delay at a Canadian airport, airlines would be required to return to the gate so that passengers can disembark, if safe to do so. However, a plane would be permitted to stay on the tarmac for up to 45 additional minutes, if it is likely that it will take off within that period.

Q26. What are the new requirements regarding the seating of children?

Under the proposed regulations, airlines would have to facilitate, at no extra cost and at the earliest opportunity, the seating of children under the age of 14 in close proximity to their parent, guardian or tutor. The proximity would depend on the age of the child: 

  • Under the age of 5: in a seat adjacent to their parent, guardian or tutor.
  • Aged 5 to 11: in the same row and separated by no more than one seat from their parent, guardian or tutor.
  • Aged 12 or 13: separated by no more than a row from the parent, guardian or tutor.

Airlines would also be required to establish a policy for unaccompanied minors, and to prohibit minors under the age of five from travelling without their parent or an accompanying person who is at least 16 years old.

Q27. How would passengers be compensated for lost or damaged baggage?

Under the Montreal Convention, an international air transport treaty to which Canada is a party, airlines can be held liable for baggage that is damaged or lost during international travel, up to approximately $2,100. To provide better protection to passengers travelling within Canada, the new regulations would apply this scheme to domestic travel as well.

In addition, the regulations would require airlines to reimburse passengers for any baggage fees if their baggage is damaged or lost.

Q28. What are the new requirements for the transportation of musical instruments?

Under the proposed regulations, airlines would have to include in their tariffs the terms and conditions of carriage regarding the transportation of musical instruments. The topics that the tariff would have to address include:

  • The acceptance of musical instruments;
  • Instruments as carry-on and checked baggage;
  • Cabin storage options; and,
  • Fees for transporting musical instruments.

Q29. How would the new requirements be enforced?

Airlines would be required to follow the obligations set out in the regulations and would be subject to administrative monetary penalties of up to $25,000 per incident of non-compliance. The CTA is responsible for enforcing the new regulations.

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