Resources for air travellers

With millions of passengers travelling every year, air travel has become a normal part of life. Passengers need to be able to make informed decisions. When encountering problems that can’t be resolved with the airline, they often don’t know where to turn to. But there is an outlet for their complaints — the Canadian Transportation Agency.

The Agency is an independent quasi-judicial tribunal operating under the Canada Transportation Act (Act). Its job is to resolve disputes between air passengers and airlines by ensuring that the airlines respect the rights of passengers and that passengers understand their rights and responsibilities as set out in the Act and its related regulations.

The rights and obligations of air passengers as well as airlines are set out in the airline’s tariff— its contract with passengers. The Agency enforces the application of tariffs of any airline that operates a publicly-available air service to, from or within Canada and may address complaints about the airline’s policies.

Know your rights and responsibilities

By law, airlines are required to make their tariffs available to the public. Before travel, passengers should know their rights and responsibilities before something goes wrong. Tariffs are available by various means.

  • Airline business offices in Canada. Airlines must display at each business office, in a prominent place, a sign advising the public that the tariff is available for inspection. A carrier's business office may include a ticketing office or an airport terminal. 
  • Airline web sites.
  • The Agency's tariff repository. It provides a “one-window” direct access to tariffs posted on major airlines’ websites.

In addition, passengers should be able to clearly understand an airline’s tariff. In its ongoing efforts to encourage airlines to clarify their contractual commitments to passengers, the Agency created a Sample Tariff to help airlines provide the clearest possible language in their tariffs. It serves as a concrete example that a clear, simplified and understandable tariff is achievable. It contains simplified language and an orderly structure covering provisions before, during and after travel.

The Agency also issued publications including:

  • Fly Smart: a guide to air travel in Canada. It informs air passengers of the consumer protection regime that is in place in Canada, the rights and obligations of both passengers and air carriers under this regime, and how to seek redress if something goes wrong.  It tells air travellers what they need to know about travel documents, tickets, baggage, insurance coverage and special requests – everything to get from the early stages of planning a trip, right through to the airport and back home; and
  • Take Charge of your Travel: a guide for persons with disabilities which describes accessible services and features for persons with disabilities when travelling.

Air passengers should also be aware that on December 14, 2012, new rules pertaining to all-inclusive air price advertising came into effect. The rules require any person who advertises the price of an air service to display the total price, inclusive of all taxes, fees and charges. For more information, consult the all-inclusive air price advertising page.

Complaints addressed by the Agency

Typical complaints that the Agency can address are about:

  • claims for delayed, lost or damaged baggage or shipped goods (including animals);
  • baggage charges and size limits;
  • flight delays and cancellations and/or missed connections;
  • schedule changes made before or after departure;
  • cancelled reservations;
  • ticket restrictions (refunds, transfers, advance purchase or minimum/maximum stay requirements)
  • airline charges and fees;
  • denied boarding (for example, due to overbooking or equipment downgrade);
  • refusal to transport (because of late check in or because of missing travel documents);
  • refund requests;
  • loyalty programs if they are owned by the airline (this excludes Aeroplan® and Air Miles®, which are independent). 

The Agency cannot address complaints about aircraft safety or security. Such matters fall within the responsibility of Transport Canada. Additionally, the Agency does not have the authority to deal with complaints about the level or quality of customer service provided by an airline (for example, the quality of food or the behaviour or attitude of the crew members). If passengers have complaints about such matters, they should be sent directly to the airline.

How the Agency can help passengers

The majority of complaints can be resolved directly between airlines and passengers. However, when this is not possible, the Agency can help passengers in two primary ways:

  1. When passengers feel their airline has not provided them the remedy outlined in its tariff in cases such as lost baggage or a cancelled flight. If they have given the airline 30 days to respond and cannot come to an agreement with the airline, passengers can file a complaint with the Agency. It will try to resolve the dispute through informal means such as facilitation or mediation. Passengers may also submit a complaint to the Agency which will be heard and ruled on through a court-like process known as formal adjudication.
  2. If an air passenger wants to challenge an airline’s terms and conditions contained in its tariff as being unclear, unreasonable or discriminatory (e.g., compensation when they are denied boarding or inadequate information about changes in flight schedules), they can file a formal complaint for adjudication by an Agency Panel.

Dispute resolution services

Informal complaints processes

The Agency manages to settle most disputes between air passengers and their airline informally through the services of specialized staff. In 2013-14, Agency staff helped more than 519 travellers resolve disputes through facilitation or mediation.

Facilitation

This method is a voluntary process where parties to a dispute do not meet each other face to face. Rather, communication between the parties is conducted by Agency staff in an effort to resolve the dispute in a timely and cost-effective manner. The Agency strives to settle complaints through facilitation within 90 business days after receipt of all the relevant information or documentation that explains or supports the air passenger's position.

Through this process, a complaint submitted by an air passenger is reviewed against the airline's tariff to determine if the terms and conditions of carriage have been properly applied. Where it appears that an airline has not respected its tariff, Agency staff will intervene with the airline and try to convince it to voluntarily respect its tariff, which resolves the complaint.

Mediation

In certain cases and where both parties agree, complaints can be mediated by Agency staff who are qualified mediators. They act as a neutral third party and assist the airline and the passenger in reaching a confidential settlement agreement. Such agreements have the force of a contract and can be enforced upon request to the Agency. Through mediation, the parties to the dispute are encouraged to develop their own solutions and are able to explore creative options.

Formal court-like process

Any person may request that their complaint be heard and ruled on by an Agency Panel through a court-like process known as adjudication when they believe that the airline’s terms and conditions are:

  • unclear;
  • unjust and unreasonable;
  • unduly discriminatory;
  • inconsistent with international agreements or conventions to which Canada is a signatory; or,
  • not applied by the airline.

The Agency can order an airline to change its tariff if one of these conditions is not respected. In some cases, it can also order the airline to compensate the passenger for out-of-pocket expenses arising from an incident such as denied boarding or lost or damaged baggage.

However, the Agency cannot intervene in cases where passengers believe they have endured pain and suffering or loss of enjoyment. It cannot impose penalties or order an airline to compensate passengers who have not followed their own responsibilities, such as arriving early enough to complete the check-in process, presenting valid travel documents to enter a foreign country or meeting the time limitations for filing a complaint.

When adjudicating disputes, the Agency considers the reasonableness of airline tariffs based on whether they struck a balance between the rights of passengers to be subject to reasonable terms and conditions of carriage and the airlines' statutory, commercial and operational obligations. When balancing a passenger’s rights against the airline's obligations, the Agency must consider the whole of the evidence and the submissions presented by both parties and make a determination on the reasonableness or unreasonableness of the term or condition of carriage based on which party has presented the more compelling and persuasive case.

Agency complaints are treated on a case-by-case basis. Each decision is based solely on the individual merits of the case. In the course of the process, the Agency assesses relevant facts and circumstances, by way of written submissions, weighs the various factors and makes these decisions based on law, rules of natural justice and evidence presented by the parties involved in the cases.

Final decisions made by an Agency Panel are legally-binding on the parties to that complaint. In 2013-14, the Agency issued 24 adjudicated decisions that ordered specific domestic and international carriers to make changes to their policies to address problems of clarity, reasonableness and discriminatory aspects of their tariff provisions affecting the rights of air passengers.

Air passenger rights decisions

Examples of adjudicated Agency decisions that have clarified or strengthened the rights of passengers travelling with specific air carriers include:

Denied boarding

DecisionSummary
442-C-A-2013
issued November 27, 2013

Air Canada’s international compensation rate for denied boarding now ranges from $200 to $800 and is based on the length of the delay.

342-C-A-2013
issued August 29, 2013

Air Canada’s domestic compensation rate for denied boarding now ranges from $200 to $800 and is based on the length of the delay.

227-C-A-2013
issued June 12, 2013

WestJet now provides denied boarding compensation for flights to and from Canada.

204-C-A-2013
issued May 27, 2013

Air Canada amends domestic tariff provisions governing denied boarding compensation.

Scheduling changes

DecisionSummary
249-C-A-2014
issued June 30, 2014
31-C-A-2014
issued January 31, 2014
Porter amends provisions dealing with cancellations, overbooking or advancements, schedule irregularities, and liability for denied boarding compensation.
344-C-A-2013
issued August 29, 2013 and 
16-C-A-2013
issued January 16, 2013

With these two decisions, Porter now provides better information on schedule changes and the reasons behind them.

327-C-A-2013
issued August 22, 2013

Air Transat now provides the same protection for passengers who are affected by flight advancements or delays.

249-C-A-2012
248-C-A-2012
252-C-A-2012
250-C-A-2012
251-C-A-2012
issued June 28, 2012

In five separate decisions, Air Canada, WestJet and Air Transat were ordered to let passengers choose whether they prefer to receive a refund or be rebooked when a flight is delayed, overbooked or cancelled. Read the news release.

Baggage liability

DecisionSummary
264-C-A-2013
issued July 10, 2013

Air Canada ordered to offer compensation incurred as a result of delayed baggage.

249-C-A-2013
issued June 26, 2013

Sunwing ordered to increase its liability for the loss of or damage to baggage.

182-C-A-2012
issued May 16, 2012
United Airlines’ tariff and Canadian website now clearly reflect its policy on baggage liability.

Accessibility

DecisionSummary
134-AT-A-2013
issued March 28, 2013

Air Canada and Air Canada Jazz must provide appropriate accommodation for persons who are allergic to sesame seeds and to all other foods except peanuts and nuts by reseating them, upon request and when possible. Persons with severe allergies should take precautions, such as bringing their own food, hand sanitizer, and disinfectant wipes, wearing a mask, and carrying Epi-pens.

227-AT-A-2012
issued June 14, 2012

Air Canada, Air Canada Jazz and WestJet were ordered to implement different accommodation measure for persons with cat allergy disabilities, depending on whether the aircraft has air circulation/ventilation systems using HEPA filters or not. If it does, when at least 48 hours advance notification is provided, the carriers must provide a five row minimum seating separation at all times between a person with a cat allergy disability and cats carried as pets in the cabin. If it does not, with 48 hours advance notice, the carriers must ban cats as pets in the cabin in which persons with cat allergy disabilities are travelling. Best efforts must be made to do the same if less than 48 hours advance notice is provided.

228-AT-A-2011
issued June 16, 2011

When at least 48 hours advance notification is provided, Air Canada must create a buffer zone in order to provide persons with disabilities due to their allergy to peanuts or nuts with accommodation measures. This includes limiting peanut/nut food service within the buffer zone and requiring passengers to not eat related foods in the buffer zone.

336-AT-A-2008
issued June 26, 2008

Passenger-supplied oxygen, in whatever form is permitted by safety and security regulations, was found to be the most appropriate accommodation for persons with disabilities who require oxygen to travel by air with Air Canada and WestJet. More specifically, the Agency found that passenger-supplied gaseous oxygen and passenger-supplied portable oxygen concentrators (POCs) are the appropriate accommodation on domestic air services and POCs are the appropriate accommodation on international air services.

327-AT-A-2008
issued June 20, 2008

Upon receipt of a request at least 48 hours prior to the departure, Air Canada and Air Canada Jazz were ordered to provide certainty that the person travelling with their service animal will be assigned seating with sufficient floor space at no additional cost on domestic flights and upon receipt of a request at least 48 hours prior to departure. When less notice is provided, the carriers will make a reasonable effort to provide the service.

6-AT-A-2008
issued January 10, 2008

Gander International Airport Authority, Air Canada, Air Canada Jazz and WestJet were ordered to amend their domestic policies and procedures to incorporate a one-person-one-fare regime for persons with disabilities who require additional seating to accommodate their disabilities. More specifically, the Gander Airport must not collect an airport improvement fee in respect of additional seats needed by persons with disabilities who are required to travel with attendants and the carriers must not charge a fare for additional seats to meet an in-flight disability related need, including a required attendant.

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