Canadian airports continue to be plagued with massive delays, leading many to avoid air travel altogether.

The worst of the delays have been at Toronto’s Pearson Airport. Things have gotten so bad that Canada’s largest and busiest hub was recently ranked the worst in the world in terms of delays.

Many travellers have been reporting horror stories, including long lines leading to missed flights, tarmac delays, lost baggage, and sudden flight cancellations.

True North spoke with Air Passenger Rights president Gabor Lukacs about what passengers are entitled to when dealing with major disruptions while flying.

Airport delays 

If long lines at check-in or security lead you to miss your flight, Lukacs says you should be able to get rebooked at no extra cost – even if you’re travelling on a basic fare.

“Generally, if someone misses a flight for no fault of their own at the airport, then the airline would have to take care of them.”

Flight delays and cancellations

For delays within the airline’s control that are not related to a safety issue, the Government of Canada says passengers are entitled to varying compensation, depending on the length of the delay and the airline they’re flying on.

Passengers subjected to a 3 to 6-hour delay are entitled to a compensation of $400 on a large airline and $125 on a small airline. Passengers subjected to a 6 to 9-hour delay are entitled to compensation of $700 on a large airline and $250 on a small airline. Meanwhile, travellers who are subjected to a delay of over 9 hours are entitled to a compensation of $1000 on a large airline and $500 on a small airline. 

Lukacs says that compensation needs to be in cash and passengers should expect “rebooking on another flight, in some cases also flights of competitors, and meals and accommodation overnight, if necessary” in addition to being compensated.

The government defines “large airlines” as those who’ve carried over 2 million passengers in the last two years. Other carriers are considered to be “small airlines.” 

It should be noted that airlines are exempt from having to provide compensation if they communicate the delay more than 14 days before the flight. 

Passengers have one year to request compensation, while airlines have 30 days to respond to a compensation request.

Air Canada previously denied requests for compensation over disruptions caused by staff shortages, claiming the lack of staff was a safety issue – something which Lukacs calls fraudulent.

“Crew shortage is not a safety issue, it’s just bad management,” he said. “Presenting crew shortage as safety is fraudulent, that is breaking the law.”

True North reached out to Air Canada and Westjet to ask what percentage of compensation claims resulted in a payment. Neither responded in time for publication. 

Lukacs says passengers who believe they were improperly denied a compensation claim should take legal action against the airline by taking them to small claims court.

Tarmac delays

The Government of Canada says airlines must provide passengers facing a tarmac delay with the option to disembark if that delay hits the three-hour mark, unless takeoff is likely imminent. In that case, they can keep passengers onboard for an additional 45 minutes.

The airline is exempted from the requirement if it’s not possible to disembark passengers due to safety, security, air traffic control or customs reasons.

While discussing tarmac delays, Lukacs slammed the Trudeau government’s “Air Passenger Bill of Rights”, which he said doubled the time passengers can be kept on the tarmac from 90 minutes to three hours.

“The Senate was actually siding with the public and insisted that after 90 minutes, passengers should be provided with the option to disembark. But the Liberal majority at  the time rammed through a bill that would say three hours,” said Lukacs.

Lost luggage 

According to the Air Passenger Rights’ website, luggage is deemed legally lost after 21 days of delay. At this point, Canadian passengers are entitled to up to approximately $2300 in compensation.

Lukacs says passengers should take the airlines to small claims court if they refuse to compensate them for lost baggage, saying that “the judge will order the airline to pay.”

He also recommends making a list of the items you placed in your checked baggage before heading to the airport, as well as collecting the receipts of purchases made due to lost luggage.

Passengers may also expense up to $2300 in expenses if their baggage is delayed.

Additional advice

Lukacs is recommending Canadians avoid air travel as much as possible at this time, due to the ongoing chaotic situation.

“I recommend passengers in Canada to avoid travel for time being as much as they possibly can, if they must then avoid Canadian airlines as much as they can, and if they can avoid Canadian airports as much as they can.”

He added that the current situation “is not business as usual.”

Lukacs also says that airlines must honour compensation rules and be proactive in assisting affected passengers.

“The airline has to be proactive. They have to proactively offer you a rebooking,” said Lukacs, adding that telling customers to call their call centre doesn’t meet the legal requirement.

Lukacs adds that passengers who are dealing with an airline that is not cooperative should simply buy a ticket on another airline and have their original airline pay for it.

He also recommends documenting everything, including recording interactions, adding that doing so is legal and the airlines cannot say otherwise.

“Don’t be intimidated… I heard stories like (of people being told) ‘if you take photos you won’t get here.’ No, they cannot do anything to you.”

Lukacs says “if somebody’s harassing you because you take photos or videos, call a police officer, you have every right to record conversations in Canada. You don’t need anybody else’s permission.”

The delays at Canadian airports have been going on for months, with critics saying the Trudeau government has shown a lack of accountability for the unprecedented chaos.

The Liberals have also been maintaining travel mandates, their controversial ArriveCAN app and also reintroduced mandatory random Covid testing for fully vaccinated travellers.
It is unclear when the situation will improve, but one expert says airports could continue to be plagued with problems for the rest of 2022.

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