PIAC Technical Blog: Reduced Air Passenger Protections during COVID-19

The Public Interest Advocacy Centre is writing to express its views and concerns regarding the recent measures announced by the Canadian Transportation Agency during the COVID-19 pandemic and note its implications for air passengers. These changes will apply from March 13, 2020 until June 30, 2020. The CTA has posted a guide on its website that explains the temporary changes in place. We look at some measures below.

Temporary Exemptions – APPR provisions:

  • The previously announced exemptions from certain APPR provisions regarding compensation and alternate travel arrangements would now apply from April 30, 2020 to June 30, 2020. Broadly, the air carriers are exempted from the obligation to pay for inconvenience if the flight delay or cancellation is communicated to passengers more than 72 hours before the departure time indicated on the ticket, or if the flight delay or cancellation is communicated within 72 hours of departure time on condition that the carrier pays compensation to passengers, i.e., $400 in the case of large carriers for delay of 6-9 hours, and $700 in case of 9+ hours; and in the case of small carriers, $125 for delay of 6-9 hours and $250 for delays of 9+ hours. (See CTA Determination No. A-2020-42 and CTA Determination No. A-2020-47).
  • The CTA has identified a number of situations related to the COVID-19 pandemic that are considered to be outside the airline’s control. These include flight disruptions to locations that are covered by a government advisory against travel or unnecessary travel due to COVID-19; employee quarantine or self-isolation due to COVID-19; and additional hygiene or passenger health screening processes put in place due to COVID-19.
  • It further notes that airlines may make decisions to cancel or delay flights for other reasons and whether they are within or outside the airline’s control would have to be assessed on a case-by-case basis. It remains unclear as to what these other reasons could be and how will they be assessed to fall within the airlines’ control or not.
  • We remind consumers that certain APPR protections do not apply to flight disruptions which are deemed to be outside the airlines’ control but passengers retain a right to rebooking.  By flight disruptions here we mean flight delays and cancellation, and denied boarding that generally result in a right to monetary compensation, a set standard of treatment and rebooking or a refund for disruptions within the airlines’ control and not related to safety and if it is within the airlines’ control but required for safety, then only specific standard of treatment and rebooking or refund would apply.
  • Notably, in the current situation, the CTA states that for disruptions between March 13, 2020 and June 30, 2020 that are outside the airlines’ control, they do not have to meet the APPR requirements to rebook passengers using an airline with which they have no commercial agreement.
  • For situations within an airline’s control, the standards of treatment under the APPR must be met, namely, rebooking of passengers on the next available flight operated by the airline or its partner, or a refund if rebooking does not meet the passenger’s needs. However, as noted above, for disruptions between March 13, 2020 and June 30, 2020, airlines do not have to meet the APPR requirements on rebooking passengers using an airline with which they have no commercial agreement. Also as noted, the compensation levels for flight disruptions between these dates would vary as well, with some specifics as follows:
  • Large airline:
  • 6-9 hours: $400
  • 9+ hours: $700
  • Small airline:
  • 6-9 hours: $125
  • 9+ hours: $250
  • For situations within an airline’s control but required for safety, standards of treatment under the APPR must be met: rebooking of passengers on the next available flight operated by the airline or its partner, or a refund if rebooking does not meet the passenger’s needs. Again, for disruptions between March 13, 2020 and June 30, 2020, airlines do not have to meet the APPR requirements on rebooking passengers using an airline with which they have no commercial agreement. Also, the rebooking obligation will not apply if the air carriers have already completed their booked trip.

What it means for filing claims?

  • All air carriers are temporarily exempted from the APPR deadline for responding to passenger claims for compensation. The responses are to be provided within 120 days of the end of the exemption with respect to certain APPR provisions. (See CTA Determination No. A-2020-47).
  • That said, air passengers can continue to file claims with the CTA as before, but there might be longer response times. We encourage consumers to continue to file claims as before but be prepared to wait for long to get any form of redress, as applicable.
  • Passengers can also continue to file claims for compensation with air carriers, but notably, the carriers are temporarily exempt from the 30-day deadline to respond. This exemption is applicable to June 30, 2020. It may be extended to a later date as decided by the CTA. At the end of this exemption, the carriers will have 120 days to respond to claims that were filed during or before the exemption.

Statement on Vouchers:

  • The CTA has issued a statement to respond to current flight cancellations where it notes that would be generally appropriate for airlines to provide affected passengers with vouchers or credits for future travel, provided that these vouchers or credits do not expire in an unreasonably short period of time. It notes that a period of 24 months would be considered reasonable in most cases. With many cases to be considered at their merits by the CTA.  
  • We remain extremely vary of supporting the provision of vouchers instead of full refunds as the ability of consumers to take advantage of these vouchers remains uncertain and unpredictable. Also, considering the current situation, it is quite likely that many consumers could be facing financial challenges that makes receiving vouchers instead of money back as an unfair alternative. Likewise, many air passengers have expressed their concerns regarding this. At the very least, if the airlines get a bailout, so passengers should be compensated.

Pausing of Dispute Resolution Activities:

  • The CTA has temporarily halted all dispute resolution activities involving air carriers until June 30. This includes applications already filed with them and those made during the stay period. This is extended from April 30, 2020 to June 30, 2020.  (See CTA Order 2020-A-37).

Other Temporary Changes and Suspensions:

  • Air Carriers holding a domestic licence are temporarily exempted from the 120 days’ notice and consultation requirements of section 64 of the Canada Transportation Act before temporarily suspending air services within Canada. The requirements continue to apply for permanent discontinuation of service. (See CTA Order 2020-A-36).

Useful Links:

Important Information for Travellers During COVID-19

Statement on Vouchers

Determination No. A-2020-42

Determination No. A-2020-47

Order No. 2020-A-36

Order No. 2020-A-37

Canadian Transportation Agency issues temporary exemptions to certain Air Passenger Protection Regulations provisions to address the COVID-19 pandemic

Know your rights

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