Flight rights

What are my rights?

I got bumped from my flight. Does the airline have to rebook me and compensate me for this?
  • Yes
  • No

Your flight was cancelled? You got bumped? You arrived but your luggage didn't? If something goes wrong when you fly to or from Canada or within the country, you have legal rights.

Alert!

This information has been updated to reflect new rules that came into effect on December 15, 2019. The rules give passengers more rights when a flight is delayed or cancelled.

What you should know

The airline has a contract with you — with minimum standards enforced by law

When you fly with an airline, your rights are set out in the airline’s tariff. A tariff is the airline’s contract with its passengers. It spells out your rights and obligations as a passenger, and the airline’s rights and responsibilities to you. It covers things like how the airline will deal with delays, cancellations, and lost or damaged baggage.

In 2019, new rules were introduced that effectively create a baseline for airline tariffs. All airlines operating in Canada must now meet the minimum standards imposed by these rules. It’s important to note that a lot of these rules — and the compensation to passengers that comes with them — only apply for situations that are within the airline’s control.

Tariffs vary from airline to airline

Your rights will vary depending on which airline you’re flying with. On the Canadian Transportation Agency website, you can find tariffs from more than 125 airlines.

The terms in an airline tariff:

  • must respect certain legal requirements — for example, they can’t unduly restrict the mobility of persons with disabilities, and they must respect the baseline standards required by law

  • must be reasonable and fair

  • must be applied the same way for everyone, as much as possible

Airlines must clearly display their tariff at their offices and on their websites.

Tip

To be clear: if an airline's tariff falls below the minimum standards required by law, the minimum threshold applies. Below, under “Work out problems,” we explain steps to assert your rights.

Your right to a single, all-inclusive price for air travel

There are rules designed to help you know the total price of a ticket for air travel. Any advertising for a flight, directed at the public, must include the bottom-line price, including all taxes, fees and charges. It must also spell out any limitations on when you can book and when you can travel. The ad must also show you where you can find a breakdown of the taxes, fees and charges.

The total price must be at least as prominent in the ad as any other pricing information. And it must be the first price presented to you.

These advertising rules apply to travel within Canada or originating in Canada. They apply to advertising in any media, including newspapers, TV, radio, online booking systems, the internet, and social media.

Your right to clear communication

Under the rules, airlines must communicate clearly to you. They must:

  • inform you in a simple, clear way of their policies on delays, cancellations, denied boarding, lost or damaged baggage, and the seating of children

  • inform you about your rights and available remedies

  • give the reason for a flight disruption

  • provide regular status updates during delays

  • make sure communication is accessible to persons with disabilities

If your flight is delayed

“Our flight from Vancouver to New York was delayed by four hours due to a mechanical problem. I had no idea I was entitled to $400 in cash compensation until another passenger told me.“  

– Tina, Burnaby

Bad weather, mechanical issues, new crew members — these things happen, and sometimes your flight is delayed. If so, there are legal requirements the airline must follow.

Right to be informed

For starters, the airline must keep you regularly informed. They have to tell you why the flight has been disrupted. They must communicate new flight information to you as soon as possible. And they have to provide status updates every 30 minutes.

Right to compensation

For flight delays within the airline’s control, there are rules setting out how passengers must be treated and compensated. (For situations outside of the airline’s control, the following rules won’t apply. Examples include weather conditions that make it unsafe to fly or a medical emergency.)

Under the rules, after a delay at departure of two hours, the airline must provide:

  • food and drink in reasonable quantities

  • access to a means of communication (for example, free Wi-Fi)

If the delay goes beyond three hours, you're entitled to compensation under the rules. The amount of compensation depends on the length of delay arriving at your destination, and whether the airline is large or small.

Length of delayLarge airlineSmall airline
3 to 6 hours$400$125
6 to 9 hours$700$250
9 hours or more$1,000$500

Large airlines are those that have carried more than two million passengers in each of the two preceding years (for example, Air Canada or British Airways).

If a delay bumps a flight to the next day, the airline must offer hotel or other comparable accommodation free of charge, plus free transportation.

Tip

Airlines must offer passengers compensation in monetary form (such as cash or cheque). They can offer you alternative forms of compensation (such as vouchers or rebates), but you always have the right to select what you prefer.

Right to rebooking

Once a delay reaches three hours, the airline also needs to rebook you on their next available flight — at the same class of service. Large airlines are required to rebook you on another (competing) airline if their own next available flight departs nine or more hours after your original departure time.

If your flight is cancelled

When a flight is cancelled, there are legal requirements the airline must follow.

For any flight cancellation

First, the airline must tell you why the flight has been cancelled.

Second, the airline must offer to rebook you free of charge on their next available flight, or the next available flight of another airline. The routing of the new flight(s) must be reasonable.

For cancellations within the airline's control

If the flight’s cancellation was within the airline’s control, you have some additional rights under the rules. (For situations outside of the airline’s control, such as weather conditions that make it unsafe to fly, the following rules won’t apply.)

First, if rebooking won’t meet your needs (for example, there’s no longer any purpose to the travel), you’re entitled to a refund of the ticket.

Second, if you opt to have your ticket refunded, you’re also entitled to compensation for inconvenience: $400 if you’re flying with a large airline and $125 it’s a small airline.

Third, if you’re notified of the cancellation less than 12 hours before the scheduled departure time and you’ve waited more than two hours, the airline must provide:

  • food and drink in reasonable quantities

  • access to a means of communication (for example, free Wi-Fi)

You may also be entitled to compensation for out-of-pocket expenses, such as taxi rides or overnight accommodation. Check the information you received when you made the booking to see what you’re entitled to. Also check the airline’s tariff.

You may be entitled to more than what the airline offers

If your flight is cancelled, the rules may entitle you to more than what the airline offers. Below, under work out problems, we walk you through the steps to assert your rights.

If you get bumped from a flight

Airlines often overbook flights. When this happens, the airline must first ask for volunteers willing to take a later flight (for a cash incentive).

If not enough volunteers come forward, the remaining passengers will be subject to being denied boarding — “bumped” — involuntarily. This process unfolds according to the boarding priorities set out in the airline’s tariff. Persons with disabilities and unaccompanied minors are considered first.

If you get bumped from a flight involuntarily, the airline has to rebook you free of charge on another flight.

If the disruption was within the airline’s control (for example, they overbooked the flight), the airline is also required to offer you compensation. Under the rules, the amount of compensation will depend on how long your arrival at your destination has been delayed.

Length of delayCompensation
0 to 6 hours$900
6 to 9 hours$1,800
9 hours or more$2,400

If the delay is overnight, the airline must offer hotel or other comparable accommodation free of charge, plus free transportation.

If your luggage is lost, damaged or delayed

What happens if your luggage is lost, damaged or delayed depends on the airline you’re flying with. The airline’s tariff sets out the terms that apply, subject to the minimums imposed by the rules.

Under those rules, if your luggage was lost, damaged or delayed, you may file a claim for the losses you suffered up to approximately $2,100. In the event of a lost or damaged bag, the airline must also reimburse your checked baggage fees.

There’s typically a process you need to follow to make a claim and a time limit to file your claim. Under the rules:

  • For damaged baggage, you must submit a written claim to the airline within seven days of receiving the baggage.

  • For potentially lost baggage, the claim must be submitted within 21 days after the day it was supposed to arrive.

  • All claims are subject to proof of loss. When you send your written claim, be sure to include proof of all of out of pocket expenses.

If you don’t get your claim in within the set time limits, the airline could deny it. Bottom line: If your bag is damaged or missing, contact your airline right away.

Tip

If you discover that your luggage didn’t arrive with you or is damaged, be sure to report it immediately to the airline, ideally before you leave the airport. There are specific time limits for reporting mishandled luggage.

If you arrive late for a flight

Airlines have strict deadlines. If you arrive late at the check-in counter, the airline can refuse to let you on the flight.

Most airlines let you check in online, usually 24 hours before your flight leaves. But you still have to arrive at the gate and get your baggage checked on time. The airline’s tariff — your contract with the airline — spells out what happens if you arrive late at the gate or baggage drop-off area.

If you miss a connection

If you miss a connecting flight because a plane is delayed or a flight got rescheduled, your rights depend on how the ticket was booked.

If all the flights were issued on the same ticket, you’re in good shape. The airline should get you onto the next available flight. If they can’t, they’ll usually offer to refund the unused portion of your ticket.

If the flights are on multiple tickets, you’re less protected. The airline is only responsible to get you to the destination named on the leg of the journey that had problems. Airlines usually don't offer you compensation if you missed a connection and your itinerary involved multiple tickets.

Tip

When booking connecting flights with different airlines, try to build in more time between each flight than you think you strictly need. Allow time to get off the plane, retrieve your baggage, stand in a long line for security screening, and change terminals (if need be) for your next flight.

If you suffer an injury

If you suffer a physical injury as a result of an accident on a flight or while boarding or deplaning, you’re entitled to compensation.

For international flights, the airline is strictly liable for “damage sustained in the case of death or bodily injury of a passenger.”

You aren’t entitled to compensation for pure psychological injury, including stress and inconvenience.

The amount of compensation for a physical injury is defined by a formula that’s reviewed every five years.

Work out problems

Step 1. Contact the airline

If you have an issue with a flight, give the airline the first chance to solve the problem.

Contact the airline’s customer services department. Be firm and businesslike, but polite. Calmly and accurately describe the problem and what you want the airline to do to fix it.

Request specifics about how and when something will be done. Get the name of the agent you talk to, in case you have to refer to this conversation later.

Write down key details of your conversation. Date your notes.

Tip

Make sure you’re aware of your rights under the new rules introduced in 2019. These rights may be better than the terms of the airline’s tariff. If so, the minimum standards required by law apply.

Step 2. Send a complaint letter

If discussing the situation with the airline doesn’t resolve the problem, the next step is to send them a complaint letter.

You should include:

  • your name, address and contact number

  • an explanation of the problem and the resolution you’re seeking

  • copies of your airline ticket and any other supporting documents

Send the letter to the airline’s customer services department or the contact specified in any complaint procedure the airline has in place. See the airline’s tariff or website for details on their procedure. If you want to be sure they receive your letter, send it by registered mail.

Keep a copy of your letter.

Allow the airline 30 days to respond.

Step 3. File a complaint with the Canadian Transportation Agency

If the airline fails to respond to your complaint, or if you aren’t satisfied with the response, file a complaint with the Canadian Transportation Agency. If your complaint is related to a disability or health issue, you can file an accessibility complaint.

The agency can help resolve disputes with airlines relating to travel within, to, and from Canada. Some common issues this independent regulator can help with include flight delays, cancellations, missed connections, schedule changes, getting bumped, and lost or damaged baggage. The agency doesn’t deal with complaints about the quality or level of customer service provided by an airline.

On receiving your complaint, the agency will first try facilitating your complaint. This involves a case officer assessing the issue and leading an informal exchange between you and the airline, usually by phone or email.

If facilitation doesn't resolve the issue, you can try mediation. An agency mediator will help you and the airline negotiate to reach a confidential settlement.

If mediation doesn’t resolve things, the agency also offers a court-like process called adjudication. A panel of one or more agency members will make a decision based on the evidence provided.

Common questions

What is this new “passenger bill of rights” I keep hearing about?

That’s the Air Passenger Protection Regulation, which the federal government introduced in 2019. It sets out a baseline of rules that all airlines must follow on a number of issues, such as lost baggage and flight delays. Here is a summary of the new rules.

Do I have a right to get off the plane if it sits on the runway for hours?

Possibly. The rules set out your rights when there are tarmac delays after the doors of the plane are closed for take-off or after the flight has landed.

If a plane is stuck on the tarmac at a Canadian airport for three hours, the airline must provide an opportunity for you to get off the plane. There are two exceptions, however. One is the airline can extend the threshold an extra 45 minutes if take-off is likely during that extra period. The other is if disembarking isn’t possible, such as due to safety or customs control.

The rules also set out your rights during tarmac delays. The airline must provide passengers, free of charge, with:

  • access to working lavatories

  • proper ventilation and heating or cooling

  • if it is feasible to communicate with people outside the plane, the means to do so

  • food and drink, in reasonable quantities

My international flight was delayed and I missed the start of a cruise. Can I get compensation?

While flying internationally you can make a claim under international treaty law for any losses that happened because of a flight delay. If your international flight originated in Canada and the delay was within the airline’s control, you’re also entitled to the minimum compensation set out under the Canadian rules (as described above under “What you should know”).

Let’s say your flight from Canada to Europe was delayed by 24 hours due to a mechanical problem and you missed a train connection the day after your scheduled arrival. Under the Canadian rules, you would be entitled to at least $1,000 in compensation. As well, you could claim under international treaty law for your losses. The airline would be on the hook for the cost of your overnight accommodation, the train ticket, and any other costs that restore you to the position you’d have been in if the delay hadn’t happened.

All that said, the situation changes if your connections are tight. Let’s say you booked your train connection to leave four hours after your scheduled flight arrival. In that situation, you might be found partly at fault for your losses. Case law suggests that the higher the stakes — that is, the more important it is that you arrive at your destination as scheduled — the more time you’re expected to leave yourself as a “buffer.”

Who can help

Helpful agencies

Canadian Transportation Agency
Helps resolve disputes between passengers and airlines operating in Canada.

  • Reviewed in December 2019
  • This information applies to British Columbia, Canada
  • Time to read: 13 minutes

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