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, mandated that the CTA develop air passenger protection regulations setting out airlines' obligations with respect to communication with passengers, flight delays and cancellations, denied boarding, tarmac delays, 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, cancellations and denied boarding that are within the airline's control and not required for safety reasons, and lost or damaged baggage), the law also entitles passengers to minimum levels of compensation.

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

Q2. 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.

Q3. Why did you not simply copy the rules in the US or the EU?

Parliament 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

Q4. 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 with 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.

Q5. 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.

Q6. What happened after the regulations were published in the Canada Gazette in December 2018?

A draft of the Air Passenger Protection Regulations was published in Part I of the Canada Gazette on December 22, 2018, for a 60-day comment period. During the comment period, the CTA heard from the travelling public, consumer advocates, industry and their representatives and interested stakeholders.

The CTA took into consideration all the feedback received by stakeholders and members of the public and made some modifications to the regulations to address a number of the comments.  

Q7. What did the CTA hear at this stage of the process?

During the 60-day comment period, the CTA received thousands of comments from individuals, 62 written submissions from stakeholders, and met with 20 key stakeholders, including air industry members and consumer advocates.

Key themes raised included the following:

The public and consumer advocates indicated:

  • The regulations should provide greater clarity regarding the type of situations that would be considered "outside carrier control" and "required for safety purposes."
  • There should be standards of treatment provided for tarmac delays before three hours. Some also indicated that disembarkation should be required earlier.
  • If a passenger volunteers to give up their seat, the agreed terms should be provided in writing.
  • A 120-day limit for passengers to make compensation claims would not allow sufficient time for passengers to consult flight data that will be made public by Transport Canada.

Air industry members indicated:

  • It would be impossible comply with the regulations by July 1, 2019, given the systems and operational changes required.
  • The scope of the regulations is too broad – application to flights to, from and within Canada, and joint and several liability amongst all carriers on a passenger's itinerary. Airlines believe this would create conflict or confusion between various international passenger protection regimes, be difficult to practically implement, and could create a disincentive for airlines to enter into commercial arrangements, which are intended to help passengers.
  • A one million passenger threshold for the "large carrier" obligations in the regulations will not allow new market entrants sufficient time to develop before subjecting them to more onerous obligations.
  • The regulations should provide greater clarity regarding the type of situations that would be considered "outside carrier control" and "required for safety purposes".
  • The new denied boarding requirements should not impact airlines' authority to refuse to transport a passenger for safety reasons.
  • There are concerns regarding cost implications associated with the regulations (e.g., compensation, rebooking, IT systems) and the cumulative costs of multiple new air industry requirements.

Q8. Have there been changes between the first draft and the final regulations?

Yes, the CTA considered all comments received and determined areas in which changes would be appropriate in order to ensure the regulations are robust, clear, and account for operational realities. In response to the concerns noted in Q7, the CTA has made the following adjustments. Further examples and details are available in the Regulatory Impact Analysis Statement:

  • Requiring standards of treatment (including food and drink, proper ventilation and access to lavatories) for all tarmac delays, not just those over three hours.
  • Requiring that, when the airline has found a volunteer to give up their seat, the airline must, before the flight takes off, present that person with the mutually agreed-upon terms in writing.
  • Increasing the compensation claim time limit from 120 days to one year to allow
  • Passengers enough time to access necessary flight data while also providing carriers with certainty.
  • Specifying how certain disruptions would be categorized (e.g., manufacturing defects and labour disruptions are outside carrier control.) Implementing regulations in two stages, with requirements related to communication, tarmac delays, denied boarding, lost and damaged baggage and the transportation of musical instruments provisions coming into force first – on July 15, 2019. The more complex requirements related to seating, delays and cancellations (along with applicable AMPs) will come into effect December 15, 2019.
  • Specifying liability for the regulations by establishing which carrier is responsible for the various requirements. 
  • Increasing the threshold in the definition of "large carrier" from 1 million to 2 million passengers in each of the preceding two years, in order to ensure new market entrants are given a reasonable amount of time to develop.
  • Clarifying that the denied boarding requirements do not preclude a carrier from refusing to transport a passenger for safety reasons. 

Application

Q9. Why aren't all the regulations coming into effect in July 2019?

As some of the new provisions require significant operational changes for the airline industry, the new regulations will be implemented in two phases. This will provide the earliest possible benefits to air passengers while allowing the airlines sufficient time to implement the more complicated provisions.

Q10. Which airlines will be affected by these regulations?

The proposed regulations apply to all flights flown by any airline 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 will 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.

Q11. Do large and small airlines have to follow the same requirements?

Most of the rules apply in exactly the same way to large and small airlines, but taking into account their distinct operating circumstances, there are some differences in compensation and rebooking 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. 

Q12. How do passengers know which are large and small carriers?

For this regime, large airlines are airlines that have transported at least two million passengers worldwide 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 will be required to communicate to passengers whether they fall into the category of large or small airline.

New Requirements as of July 15, 2019

Q13. How do the regulations ensure passengers receive key travel information?

The regulations require that airlines communicate in a simple, clear and accessible 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 are required to provide regular status updates and to ensure that communication is accessible to persons with disabilities. 

Q14. 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.

Q15. How do the regulations address the practice of 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 are obligated to first seek volunteers willing to give up their seat. Airlines also have to establish and follow a priority boarding list (for example, persons with disabilities, families travelling together and unaccompanied minors will have to be considered last for denied boarding). 

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

Q16. How much compensation is 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 – is entitled to compensation. A passenger's compensation is based on the length of delay upon arrival at their final destination.

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

Q17. How long does an airline have to issue a payment for denied boarding?

For denied boarding, compensation must be issued to the passenger as soon as is operationally feasible, or no later than 48 hours after boarding is denied. If the carrier cannot provide compensation before the passenger's new departure time, it must provide written confirmation of the amount owed. The carrier must adjust the amount of compensation accordingly, should the passenger arrive at their destination later than anticipated.

Q18. What form of compensation needs to be provided?

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

Q19. What are airlines required to do during a tarmac delay?

The regulations ensure that during tarmac delays – whether they occur in Canada or abroad – passengers are properly treated.  Every airline is obligated to have policies addressing passenger entitlements during tarmac delays, which the CTA can review and, if it finds the policies to be unreasonable, can change through an order. Under the regulations, standards of treatment have to include, at minimum, access to working lavatories, proper ventilation and heating or cooling, food and drink, and, if feasible, the ability to communicate with people outside the plane free of charge.

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

Q20. Why are tarmac delay standards of treatment required before three hours but not disembarkation?

During our consultations, we heard from Canadians that three hours is too long to wait for standards of treatment during a tarmac delay. It became apparent that the enabling legislation did not provide enough clarity on when standards of treatment apply. The Minister issued a direction to clarify this issue, which the CTA welcomes. The purpose of the direction is to require standards of treatment – food and drinks, proper ventilation, access to lavatories and also access to means of communication – for all tarmac delays.

Airlines will be required to disembark passengers after a tarmac delay of three hours, provided it is safe to do so and there is no imminent prospect of take-off. This three-hour timeframe was based on operational realities at airports as well as international best practices. For example, in the United States, airlines are required to offer the option to disembark after a three-hour delay on domestic flights, and a four-hour delay on international flights.

Q21. How are passengers 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 apply this scheme to domestic travel as well.

A passenger must file a claim for compensation with the airline. For damaged baggage, the claim must be submitted within seven days after the passenger receives the baggage. For potentially lost baggage, the claim must be submitted within 21 days after the day it was supposed to arrive.

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

Q22. What are the new requirements for the transportation of musical instruments?

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

  • Weight, size and quantity restrictions;
  • Cabin storage options;
  • Options in the event of aircraft downgrading; and,
  • Fees for transporting musical instruments.

A policy which simply states that the airline will not accept musical instruments does not meet the requirements.

New Requirements as of December 15, 2019

Q23. What treatment are airlines required to provide during a flight delay?

The regulations establish minimum treatment that airlines have to provide to passengers for delays within their control, including those required for safety purposes.

After a delay at departure of two hours, airlines 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 have to offer hotel or comparable accommodation free of charge, as well as free transportation to and from the accommodation.

Q24. In what circumstances do 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 must provide compensation for inconvenience.

Q25. How much compensation is required for delays and cancellations?

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

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

Q26. How do passengers receive compensation for a flight disruption? 

In order to receive compensation for the inconvenience of a flight delay or cancellation, passengers must file a claim for compensation from the airline that operated the flight that was disrupted within one year. This is typically the airline that provided the aircraft and crew for the flight.

That airline will have 30 days to either pay the compensation owed or explain to passengers in writing why compensation is not owed. Should passengers not be satisfied with an airline's response to their written complaint, they can file a complaint with the CTA.

Q27. Are airlines required to rebook delayed passengers?

For all delays, cancellations and denied boarding situations, airlines have to ensure that 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 has 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 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 are required to rebook the passenger using the services of another (competing) airline if their own next available flight doesn't depart within 48 hours of the passenger's original departure time.

If there is no available flight departing the original airport within 48 hours of the original departure time, a large carrier must book the passenger on a flight from a nearby airport, if there is one available. The large carrier must also transport the passenger, free of charge, to that airport.

Q28. 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 is entitled to a refund, as well as compensation for inconvenience: $400 for large airlines and $125 for small airlines.

Q29. What are the new requirements regarding the seating of children?

Under the regulations, airlines 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 depends 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 are also 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.

Enforcement

Q30. How will the new requirements be enforced?

Airlines are required to follow the obligations set out in the regulations and are 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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