What fair-play protections would you like to see if the Canadian federal government gives us an official Air Passenger Bill of Rights?
Currently in Canada, the flight service terms and obligations are decided by the individual airlines within the framework of federal law and multinational agreements. All details regarding your rights, alongside the air carrier liabilities, are found on every air ticket purchased. The problem is the obligations differ from one airline to the next.
CONDITIONS OF CARRIAGE
Unlike travellers on European airlines, passengers on Canadian carriers don’t have standardized protections. In Europe, an Air Passenger Bill of Rights provides a single set of rules for both scheduled flights and charter flights. That type of quick-access information gives travellers on-the-spot leverage for both domestic and international trips and, since travel of any kind involves a good degree of luck, an exacting legal framework helps the public to recognize when additional insurance becomes the best safeguard.
Canadian airports currently handle a whopping 133 million people each year who come and go mostly according to plan. Travel days are a moveable feast however with the continual weaving of global factors, which can never be totally controlled. In any given 24-hour period around the world as many as 100,000 passenger flights are subject to the potential for poor weather, mechanical issues, security alerts and human error, all of which can, and do, cause disruptions leading to flight delays, cancellations, over-booked flights, poor communications, and lost, late or damaged luggage. No wonder our stomachs sink when things go from smooth to unwanted surprises such as baggage loss or damage or the dreaded “progressive delay.” There’s a truism exchanged among frequent flyers: A lucky day is when the majority of things proceed as expected. A miraculous day is when they all do.
So the next time a surprise leaves you waiting and wondering, remember some of the answers may be on your airline ticket. Take a look at the carrier’s obligations when it comes to your particular circumstance and assess if those are being met. The airline’s “conditions of carriage” policy is also available at ticket counters, at boarding locations and is likely on the airline’s website.
When conflicts do arise, many are caused by interpretation of the policies and are argued on the circumstantial fairness. Air carrier interests focus on commercial requirements whereas passengers focus on getting what they paid for. In Canada today, an effective claims procedure is in place for all air passengers, and it begins by putting the complaint in writing. A complete guide—including the videos Fly Smart and Take Charge of Your Travel—is offered by the Canadian Transportation Agency (CTA) on their website, otc-cta.gc.ca.
It might be helpful to note that new complaints in Canada average around 830 per year and data shows the vast majority (90 per cent) are settled in the early stages of the mediation process. In a recent 12-month period, 757 complaints were resolved.
As you read the full airline ticket (considered a contract between you and the airline), note the terms you agreed to as a passenger. For instance, you are in a stronger position if you meet the check-in and boarding gate deadlines; meet the baggage policies (size, weight, valuables, perishables, identification); and if you keep a record of the services rendered. On the ticket you may also see the airline’s compensation commitments in the event of a disruption and its limits. Often, for example, weather delays are exempt from the carrier’s obligations. That means you could easily get stuck, so to reduce the stress, advisers suggest: travel the day before something important; take a non-stop flight and schedule it early in the morning to avoid any interruption ripple effects; seek the weather forecast in advance; and find out the status of your flight before leaving home.
The air ticket fine print might be challenging, however. The terms are thorough but the language is often vague with exemptions like “…conditions may include, but are not restricted to…”—all of which pushes the clarity back to ground zero. This is precisely why a more reader-friendly Bill of Rights is such a welcomed prospect—and the good news is we are already in a strong position.
CTA constantly examines carrier fairness and up to now has ordered many changes in the traveller’s favour. As well, a number of activists—ranging from politicians like the former MP Gerry Byrne to private citizens like math professor Gabor Lukács—have tirelessly pressured the airlines in Canada to offer better service and comfort and increased financial compensation for everyone.
If you enjoy taking vacations with the efficiency of booking an all-in-one package, it’s worth noting the terms and conditions of travel—often on a charter airline or on a low-cost carrier—might be considerably different to the obligations on a flight-only air ticket. Vacation package components are subject to the parameters set out by numerous service suppliers including the tour company, airline, resort, ground operators and more. On a future Bill of Rights, it is unknown to what extent these travellers would be covered (as they are in Europe), so for now, the best protection is to thoroughly read the vacation agreement at the time of purchase and to carry the documents with you.