03 JUL 2012: Passengers on Air Canada, WestJet and Air Transat will soon have more options when their flights are overbooked, delayed or cancelled. A decision by the Canadian Transportation Agency last week says passengers should be allowed to opt for a full refund and a free trip home in the event of a cancellation or delay.
This is a major change to the system as it is the airline who currently can choose whether to refund or rebook passengers.
Rebook and refund in full
The CTA also says that in certain cases carriers must rebook passengers on the first available flight - even if that flight is with a competing airline.
In a news release Thursday, the agency noted that in the past, when refunds were warranted, passengers were only reimbursed for the unused portion of their tickets.
The new ruling makes it clear that passengers – not the airline - will be able to choose whether they are rebooked or get a full refund. If they no longer want to follow through with their travel plans because of a delay or cancellation, they are entitled to be flown home free of charge - within a "reasonable time frame" - and receive a full refund on their ticket.
The new regulations do not apply to disruptions caused by bad weather or security issues.
The agency noted that WestJet and Air Transat have made changes to their policies that meet most of the updated passenger rights. Air Canada is directed to change its rules on overbooking, cancelling, delaying and rerouting flights by August 12.
The three airlines have 30 days to appeal the new rules.
The rulings are in response to complaints filed by Gabor Lukdach, a math professor in Halifax, who has taken on the airline industry several times.
In 2011, after a complaint from Lukacs, the transportation agency declared Air Canada's international baggage liability for lost or damaged luggage was unreasonable and ordered the airline to change it.
Air Canada’s policy said the carrier couldn't be held liable for valuables such as money and jewelry in checked baggage on certain itineraries.
Lukacs also won a victory against WestJet when the transportation agency ruled the airline's $250 limit for luggage compensation was too low and ordered it raised to $1,800.
The airline appealed, but the Federal Court of Appeal rejected the challenge.
So is this a victory for passengers. Not likely.
Full refunds and flights home on other carriers are expensive, often unrealistic and not always feasible. Impractical measures imposed by governments don’t often work, and this one is likely to bite back at the passengers it is meant to protect – or perhaps more accurately – appease.
It’s going to be interesting to watch how the airlines cope with the new regulations while you can bet that rather than placate travellers, the new ruling will make them ever more demanding.