The Canadian Transportation Agency (CTA) announced this week that as of September 8, 2022, its regulations governing passenger protections will be expanded.
Until now, flyers on Canadian airlines have been legally entitled to refunds as long as the flight disruption is deemed to be within the control of the operating airline—staffing, equipment, and the like.
But soon, that will widen to allow passengers to get a refund or an instant rebooking—whichever the customer chooses—if there is a flight cancellation or a "lengthy" delay, even if the cause is outside the airline's control (i.e. weather, pandemic, etc.).
In cases of cancellation or long delay, the airline must give would-be passengers holding confirmed reservations a booking on the next available flight that is operated by it or by a partner airline. That replacement flight must depart within 48 hours of the original flight's intended departure time.
If airlines can't rebook customers, they must refund customers (in the case of partly used tickets, the amount may be prorated) and they must do it within 30 days so the customer isn't stuck waiting months for their funds to come back.
And one more thing: Refunds must return to the same method of payment used to buy the ticket. That means no more silencing disgruntled travelers with semi-useless "vouchers" for future flights.
"These regulations will close the gap in the Canadian air passenger protection regime highlighted by the Covid-19 pandemic and ensure that even when cancellations and lengthy delays occur that are outside the airline’s control, passengers will be protected if the airline cannot complete their itinerary within a reasonable period of time," CTA chair France Pegeot said in a release Wednesday.
Some Canadian consumer groups point out, rightly, that having to wait as long as two days for a replacement flight isn't very helpful. "Were you thinking of going for a weekend visit, leaving Friday and coming back on Sunday?" writes Gábor Lukács, founder of the defense group Air Passenger Rights. "If your Friday flight is cancelled, the airline will be able to offer you an outbound flight for Sunday that you will never take—and pocket your money."
But Americans may read those new rules and find themselves getting itchy with jealousy. In the United States, where giant corporations are more or less allowed to set the rules governing their own customer responsibility, carriers such as American Airlines have absolved themselves from most responsibility for rebooking stranded customers.
In the U.S., airlines are not required to put inconvenienced customers on domestic flights operated by different airlines. In fact, the best the official guidance from the Department of Transportation can do on this topic—and this is true—is suggest that "it does not hurt to politely ask your airline if it will transfer your ticket to another airline."
When things go wrong with American Airlines, its contract of carriage, which was unilaterally revised in its own favor last year, says it can simply dish out a refunds and run, even if it strands customers thousands of miles from home.
Like the U.S. Department of Transportation, Canada's CTA has not provided a definition of what would constitute a significant delay.
Soon, the dump-and-run treatment that U.S. airlines give marooned customers on a daily basis will be harder to do in Canada. There, as of Sept. 8, airlines must rebook you, and you must fly within two days.
Perfect? Not even close. But better.