Bill of rights cleared for takeoff
It’s a funny kind of business model: a company can sell you a product that it doesn’t even have available, and then when you show up to get what you paid for, it can tell you, “Too bad.”
It can set all kinds of stringent rules for when you absolutely have to arrive to avail of their services (including saying that if you’re five minutes late, they won’t serve you), but face no penalties themselves if they fail to deliver timely service, even if it’s clearly their own fault.
Welcome to the world of Canadian air travel, where fighting for fair treatment can be an uphill battle.
Late last week, though, the federal government took steps to level the playing field a little.
The first part of the airline passenger bill of rights is going to come into effect July 15. It covers everything from the standards of care for passengers on aircraft sitting, waiting to take off (there have to be working bathrooms, for example) to what happens if the airline sells you a seat it doesn’t actually have.
If you’re bumped because of overbooking on a major airline and are delayed from reaching your final destination for less than six hours, the airline will have to pay you $900. If the delay is between six and nine hours, the payment will be a minimum of $1,800. With more than nine hours of delay, the compensation will be a minimum of $2,400.
It’s about time. Overbooking is just about the most frustrating part of air travel. Sitting in the departure lounge while airline personnel search for volunteers to fly later and receive a travel voucher can be nerve-wracking, especially when you know that the next step will be selecting passengers who won’t be flying based on the airline’s own formula. Some things won’t change.
Weather issues are different – the new regulations apply to delays that are within an airline’s control, including things like overbooking and scheduled maintenance. For issues outside the airline’s control, the requirement will be for airlines to complete a passenger’s itinerary.
In December, more regulations will apply, including compensation for cancelled flights, a requirement that an airline see you through to a destination even if it requires booking you a seat on a competing airline, and new rules that mean airlines will have to seat children under five with a parent. Airlines will also have to pay passengers for flights delayed by the airline.
The changes are overdue. For too long, this country’s airlines have held virtually all the cards when it comes to compensating passengers for delays and cancellations. Not only are passengers put out by arbitrary choices, the airlines themselves have determined, to some degree, how they want to address complaints.
It’s a good thing to see the playing field getting levelled – even when that playing field is an airfield.