Updated rules offer Canadian travellers more protection from flight cancellations and delays

New regulations took effect in Canada today that require airlines to provide passengers with either a refund or rebooking, at the passenger’s choice, when there is a flight cancellation, or a lengthy delay, due to a situation outside the airline’s control.

The new rule is an update to the the Air Passenger Protection Regulations formulated by the Canadian Transportation Agency (CTA) in 2019. It applies to all flights to, from and within Canada, including connecting flights.

Until now, the Air Passenger Protection Regulations only required refunds to be provided for flight disruptions within the control of airlines.

The new regulatory requirements:

  • Require airlines to provide a passenger affected by a cancellation or a lengthy delay due to a situation outside the airline’s control with a confirmed reservation on the next available flight that is operated by them or a partner airline, leaving within 48 hours of the departure time indicated on the passenger’s original ticket.
  • If the airline cannot provide a confirmed reservation within this 48-hour period, it is required to provide, at the passenger’s choice, a refund or rebooking;
  • Identify what costs must be refunded (unused portion of the ticket, which includes any unused add-on services paid for);
  • Identify the method to be used for refunds (same as the original payment, e.g., a return on the person’s credit card);
  • Require airlines to provide a refund within 30 days.

“The COVID-19 pandemic revealed a gap in Canada’s passenger protection framework, with flights delayed or cancelled due to situations outside an airline’s control and where carriers could not rebook passengers within a reasonable time, like a global pandemic. These new regulations will correct this gap,” said The Minister of Transport, Omar Alghabra, in a release.

“These new requirements provide clarity around timing, cost coverage, method of payment, and deadlines to refund travellers in such situations.”

While many people welcome the new rules, others are critical of them, saying that they still offer airlines wiggle room to avoid refunding passengers while the airlines themselves think they are being unfairly punished for things they cannot directly control.

Canada’s skies are suddenly crowded with competing airlines

Lynx Air airplane

If you didn’t think that travel is back in Canada, then look no further than the recent flurry of activity from the country’s newest airlines.

First out of the gate is Lynx Air. Its inaugural flight took off from its home base of Calgary to Vancouver Thursday. Other cities across the country that it will serve with its fleet of three Boeing 737 jets include Toronto, Victoria, Halifax, St. John’s, Winnipeg and Edmonton.

According to a Postmedia report, Lynx CEO Merren McArthur said they will start with just one flight a day, but will add more throughout the summer until they have 148 flights a week.

“We’re done with planning to be an airline, we’re ready to be an airline,” McArthur told Postmedia.
Meanwhile, leisure-carrier Canada Jetlines has announced that it will begin operations out of Toronto Pearson International Airport this summer.

The airline will operate out of Pearson with a fleet of Airbus family aircraft, starting with the A320. Canada Jetlines will fly to international destinations throughout the United States, Mexico, the Caribbean, and domestic cities across Canada.

“This is an exciting day for Canada Jetlines as we name Toronto Pearson as our primary travel hub, in preparation for summer service,” stated Eddy Doyle, CEO of Canada Jetlines in a statement.

Things are a little less rosy for Flair Airlines, which bills itself as Canada’s only independently-owned ultra-low-cost carrier, as the Canadian Transport Agency has begun to investigate whether it has breached strict federal laws that limit foreign ownership of Canadian-domiciled carriers.

And don’t forget the Air Canada and WestJet subsidiaries, Rouge and Swoop, that were set up to fend off would-be competitors. Air Canada seems to be still trying to figure out what to do with Rouge while Swoop is pumping out seat sales with incredible prices.

Competition is good so let’s hope that none of these new entrants go the way of Jetsgo, or any of the multitude of other Canadian airline failures before them.

British airlines are the first to begin dropping face mask mandates

masked passenger in airplane cabin

Despite some experts stating as recently as last month that face masks on passenger planes would likely be here for years to come, some airlines in the United Kingdom are beginning to drop them.

British carrier Jet2 was the first to abandon them for flights in England and Northern Ireland as the U.K. eased its COVID restrictions. Rival airlines EasyJet, TUI and British Airways have done the same and while they still recommend passengers wear masks, they are optional as long as the flight’s arrival or departure points don’t require them.

Here in Canada, there’s no indication as to when federal mandates for masks on planes and trains will end, but individual provinces are beginning to drop their requirements so it’s likely only a matter of time before they go away.

If you are considering ignoring the rules before that time comes, heed the tale of those Sunwing “New Year’s party” passengers, six more of whom were fined $5,000 this week.

Meanwhile, in the United States, where face coverings have been an especially divisive issue, the United States has extended its mask mandate on aircraft and public transit until at least April 18.

While some of the nation’s flight attendant unions wish the masks were here to stay, the union representing those of Southwest Airlines has asked that the mandate be rescinded.

It’s interesting to note that in Asia, where face mask-wearing is a normal practice during cold and flu season, the number of air rage incidents reported over masking rules has been negligible.

Some medical experts have expressed concern that jurisdictions are removing mask requirements too hastily and that the COVID-19 virus and potential mutations remain a threat as long as the majority of the world’s population remains unvaccinated. For that reason, don’t be surprised if you see fellow passengers continuing to wear masks even when they become optional.

Book your flights now while prices are low

If you’re thinking of flying this summer book now before rising oil prices and growing travel demand push prices up even further.

Even before the war in Ukraine sent oil prices surging, the cost of oil was already heading upwards thanks not only to pent-up travel demand but also from a recovering global economy finding its way out of the pandemic.

“No question, when oil goes up, airline prices go up,” Richard Vanderlubbe, president of TripCentral.ca told Global News.

Before the war broke out in Ukraine, one analyst in the United States predicted that domestic airfares will rise six per cent a month until August, while international fares would also increase.

And it’s not just aviation analysts that are warning about price increases. The CEO of Australian airline Qantas, Alan Joyce, issued a similar warning.

“Unfortunately if they [oil prices] stay at these levels airfares are going to have to go up, and we’re going to have to pass them on,” Joyce told 9 News. He added that for every $4US the price of oil rises, it forces Qantas to raise airfares an extra one percent.

Canadian airlines have been non-committal about how fuel costs will affect their pricing. In a Canadian Press report, Air Canada said the cost of oil is always a factor in their ticket prices while WestJet would only say that it has not increased fares in response to current oil prices.

In the same report, Transat A.T. CFO Patrick Bui said the carrier might consider fuel hedging which means buying fuel for future use at locked-in prices in the hope that it will be lower than future prices. Several American airlines are already doing this to help mitigate rising expenses.

Complicating all of this is companies’ desire to take advantage of inflation to set higher prices to see how much they can get away with. In a CBC report, Jimmy Jean, chief economist for Desjardins Group, said inflation is familiar enough a concept to consumers right now that “it’s not a stretch to think that some businesses will raise prices or even exaggerate those price increases to kind of tease out to see [at what level] we’ll see a negative impact.”

Then, of course, there’s no telling where the COVID pandemic is going, as much as we all wish it would go away. If you do buy tickets in advance in order to lock in the price, be sure to read the fine print about the cancellation refund policy that goes along with it. Some Canadian travellers have been waiting since 2020 for their refunds.

New Embraer jets will allow Porter Airlines to expand across North America

Porter Airlines Embraer airplane

Toronto-based Porter Airlines has ambitions to expand beyond its current regional routes in eastern North America to become a bigger player across the continent.

It’s being tight-lipped about where those new destinations will be beyond stating they are considering routes in the west, the southern United States, Mexico and the Caribbean. One map of potential destinations includes numerous American destinations such such as Miami and Los Angeles along with much of western Canada.

The expansion will be made possible once they receive delivery by mid-2022 of 80 new Embraer E195-E2 aircraft which have transcontinental range. It will be the first airline to operate these planes in North America.

The aircraft are being acquired by Porter Aircraft Leasing Corp., a sister company of Porter Airlines. The total aircraft order is valued at up to US$5.82 billion at current list prices, with 30 firm commitments and 50 purchase right options.

The ability to convert purchase rights to smaller E190-E2s is included in the agreement. This provides opportunities to introduce non-stop service in markets where connecting flights are often the only option today. It also enables higher-frequency service for routes with greater demand.

Porter intends to operate the E2s to popular destinations from Ottawa, Montreal, Halifax and Toronto Pearson International Airport.

“We believe that now is the right time to make this investment as the pandemic resets the aviation landscape. Adding a diverse selection of popular business and leisure destinations to our network means that we are better positioned to serve the needs of many more passengers,” said Michael Deluce, president and CEO, Porter Airlines.

While establishing service at Pearson Airport for the first time, flights from Porter’s existing hub at downtown Toronto’s Billy Bishop Airport remain core to its business and will continue with high-frequency regional service on turboprop aircraft. Service is confirmed to restart at Billy Bishop on Sept. 8, following a temporary shutdown due to the COVID-19 pandemic and associated travel restrictions. The E2s will not operate at this airport.

The E195-E2 accommodates between 120 and 146 passengers.