More rights for passengers on Canadian airlines

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Passengers on Canada’s major airlines will soon have more rights in the event their flights are overbooked or cancelled.

The Canadian Transportation Agency, in its decisions issued Thursday, said Air Canada, WestJet and Air Transat must offer passengers more options when the overbooking and cancellation of flights are within the carriers’ control. 

The CTA noted that policies for dealing with these disruptions are set by each airline "on the basis of its own interests," with remedies for passengers entirely within its discretion.

For instance, customers who received refunds got money back only on the unused portion of their ticket, the CTA said.

As a result of the CTA’s decisions, passengers can now choose whether they want to receive a refund or be rebooked on another flight. In certain cases, the airline will have to rebook passengers on the first available flight even if it’s with a competitor.

Passengers who want to go home instead are entitled to a free flight "within a reasonable time" and a full refund of their ticket price.

Furthermore, the airlines have to make these provisions clearer to customers and cannot impose artificial deadlines, like giving passengers a 30 day time limit to take legal action when the law allows for two years.

The new regulations do not apply to "situations outside the control of the air carriers," such as bad weather or security issues.

WestJet and Air Transat have until July 28, and Air Canada has until August 12, to revise their policies in accordance with these new rules.

The CTA is an independent government agency whose mandate is to protect Canadian consumers in their dealings with airlines. Thursday’s decisions stemmed from five complaints filed by a customer in June 2009.