Recently, an Air Transat flight from Glasgow to Toronto was delayed for almost an entire day when its two pilots were arrested on suspicion of being under the influence of alcohol just prior to their transatlantic flight.
The issue created a massive headache not only for the airline as they had to scramble to get a new—and rested—flight crew to Glasgow, but also for passengers who found their travel plans turned upside down.
Some years ago, the European Commission passed Regulation (EC) No 261/2004, mandating that all airlines provide assistance and compensation to passengers who experience lengthy delays, cancellations, downgrades or are denied boarding due to overbooking.
Depending on the length of the delay, all airlines operating flights within Europe or leaving from Europe must provide refreshments and/or meals, access to communications, overnight accommodation where applicable, rerouting or refund (if requested), and cash compensation ranging from 250–600 euros per person (travel vouchers may be substituted only if agreed to and signed off by the passenger).
These are not merely guidelines, but actual regulations that apply to any upheaval determined to be the fault of the airline: that is, not caused by things beyond the airline’s control such as political instability, weather, terrorism or simply a passenger rolling up to the airport late.
It also only applies if the passenger has a confirmed reservation, and is not flying on a free or a discounted ticket not available to the public (for example, they’re an airline or travel industry employee).
In short, if travelling on an airline based in a European Union country, or taking off from any European Union airport on any airline, the Commission has your back. While Canadian airlines flying out of Europe must comply with this regulation, despite years of efforts to create an Air Passengers Bill of Rights in Canada, there are still no such steadfast rules here.
What a Canadian air carrier does to compensate inconvenienced passengers is entirely up to that airline. If a Canadian airline doesn’t wish to compensate you when your flight to Cuba takes off eight hours late because the crew didn’t get their wake-up call, they don’t have to. But most Canadian carriers will likely do something.
In the event of a last-minute flight cancellation, Air Canada will help passengers rebook on the next available Air Canada flight, or if the traveller prefers, cancel the ticket and refund the full amount paid. For delays caused by the airline that are expected to be longer than four hours, the airline vows to keep everyone fully apprised of the situation and to offer a voucher for use at an airport restaurant.
If the delay stretches overnight, Air Canada will provide “out-of-town customers with meal vouchers, transportation to and from the airport as well as hotel accommodation (subject to availability).”
WestJet’s policies vary on whether the flight is scheduled or charter, domestic, international or cross-border (for example, between Canada and the U.S.). For scheduled flights within Canada, in addition to keeping all passengers aware of delays and also providing an explanation for the delay, WestJet provides a meal voucher for any posted or estimated departure of three hours or more delay, up to a maximum of three vouchers per day.
For passengers who are delayed eight hours or more, a hotel voucher, one meal voucher and airport transfers are provided for anyone “who did not start their travel at that airport.” In terms of compensation, WestJet pledges that for delays of between 120 minutes and 179 minutes, passengers receive an “apology email with contact information” while delays of 180 minutes or more are provided with an “apology email with contact information and a 20% discount code.”
Air Transat also promises to keep all passengers aware of delays, and if departure is delayed by more than four hours the airline provides passengers with a meal voucher. If delayed by more than eight hours and “the delay involves an overnight stay, Air Transat will pay for the overnight hotel stay and airport transfers for passengers who did not commence their travel at that airport.”
Even these promises, posted on their websites and in each airline’s Contract of Carriage, can change, and therefore it’s highly recommended that if in doubt, ask the airline directly or check the Contract of Carriage on each carrier’s site.
Finally, many travel insurance companies include coverage for expenses incurred through lengthy delays, missed connections and cancellations, making travel insurance not only advisable but also highlighting the importance of checking the fine print on your policy before travelling.