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Flight Delay Compensation Rulings: What Counts As Within Airlines’ Control?


Confused about whether or not you’re eligible for flight delay compensation in Canada? You’re not alone.

Unlike EU air passenger protection laws (which have been around for two decades) Canada’s Air Passenger Protection laws have only been in place since 2019. There’s less of a legal precedent for decisions about flight delay compensation in Canada as the details are still being defined by the Canadian Transportation Agency (CTA).

A brief summary of the basics if you’re unfamiliar with Canadian law: passengers are legally entitled to compensation of anywhere between $400 and $2,400 for the inconvenience when flights are delayed by over 3 hours, cancelled, or overbooked. The catch is that airlines only have to pay out when the flight delay was within their control.

Sometimes, that can get murky – for example, routine aircraft maintenance is within the airline’s control, but a sudden technical glitch that compromises the safety of the aircraft is claimed to be outside of their control by the airline.

There are many other, smaller rules surrounding flight compensation, causing passengers to get confused and miss out on the money that airlines legally owe them.

Below, we’ll take a look at some recent decisions the CTA made about what situations were inside of (and outside of) the airline’s control. You’ll hear whether or not passengers got compensation for their claim, and what takeaways the case holds.

Case #1: A sudden cancellation at the gate

In September 2023, one passenger made a claim with the CTA for compensation for a cancelled Air France flight from France to Montreal. The passenger was supposed to fly out from Paris on March 24, 2020 – but when he got to the gate, Air France told him that his flight was cancelled, and they offered him an alternate flight on March 25.

He had to stay in the airport on the night of the 24th, since the hotel had closed due to the pandemic. Restaurants were closed in the airport too, so he only had a bottle of water while he was stranded at the airport.

He wanted compensation for the cancelled flight and related expenses, but Air France argued that they had notified the ticket issuer (Delta Airlines) when the flight was cancelled. They also argued that the cancellation was due to a situation outside of their control.

The problem? They had no evidence, either of the notification they sent to Delta Airlines or to explain why the cancellation was outside of their control.

The passenger didn’t have any receipts for expenses during his stay at the airport, but could have submitted hotel expenses, food receipts, and transportation costs as well if it weren’t for the pandemic.

He also wanted a refund of his flight ticket, but since he accepted the alternative flight that Air France offered him, they weren’t liable for paying out a refund. As a result, he couldn’t claim related expenses or a refund – but it was clear that Air France owed him for the inconvenience.

The CTA ruling: Air France owed the passenger $700 in compensation.

The takeaway: The operating airline is responsible for compensation

Whenever there’s a cancellation or delay that’s within the airline’s control, the operating airline is responsible for paying out compensation. The operating airline is the airline that’s actually operating the flight, as opposed to the company that may have sold the tickets.

In this case, the ticket issuer was Delta Airlines, but the operating airline was Air France. That meant Air France was responsible for the cancellation, and liable for the lack of communication about it.

Another important takeaway from this ruling is that knowing your rights is important. If the passenger had found a better last-minute flight with another airline, he would have been eligible for a refund of his ticket.

If he had bought food or booked lodging outside of the airport, he could have submitted these expenses for reimbursement as well (provided he saved his receipts). For delays over two hours, the airline is responsible for reimbursing you for reasonable expenses you incur as a result.

Getting information from experts right away can help, especially when you’re stranded at the airport and unsure of your rights. If you’ve experienced a sudden delay or cancellation, don’t hesitate to check with us to find out if you’re eligible for compensation.

Case #2: Agent blunder delays flight change info

A couple filed for compensation from an airline in October 2023 when their flight from Vancouver to Halifax was delayed by over 6 hours. The cause? A schedule change. Their original flight was scheduled to arrive in Halifax at 5:35pm, but the new re-routed flight arrived at 10:46pm. Then, the flight was delayed during their trip by 1 hour and 32 minutes, so they ended up in Halifax at 12:18am.

If they had been informed about the schedule change more than two weeks in advance, the airline wouldn’t owe them anything. The delay outside of the schedule change was less than two hours, which wouldn’t be long enough to make them eligible for compensation.

But they heard about the schedule change on September 3, which was only 8 days before their flight on September 11. That meant the total delay of over 6 hours was due for a payout.

One complication was that the passengers booked with RBC Travel, which handled all the communications for their trip. The airline had actually informed RBC Travel about the schedule change on August 11, more than two weeks before RBC Travel informed the passengers.

The airline claimed that because they had sent the information to RBC, they weren’t liable for compensating the passengers. But they sent the delay information via an aircraft communications system that encoded the delay in letters and numbers rather than giving RBC Travel a plain language explanation.

The CTA found that this communication was insufficient proof that the airline had made an effort to clarify what the code meant. The airline also didn’t have evidence to back up their claim that they actually sent the communication to RBC Travel in the first place.

The CTA ruling: the airline owed each passenger $700 in compensation.

The takeaway: The airline is responsible for clear communication

In this case, the airline failed to communicate the delay clearly enough to enable RBC Travel to tell the passengers in time. Communications from the airline have to be clear enough to make sense of, as well as timely. A jumble of code, in this case, didn’t qualify.

It’s also worth noting that in spite of the fact that the passengers were informed of the flight change a few days before, the airline still had to compensate them for the inconvenience. Rescheduled flights that arrive at the destination 3 hours later or more count as a flight delay when passengers aren’t notified at least two weeks in advance.

Case #3: Airline offers to rebook almost a month later

Finally, here’s a case where passengers filed a claim with the CTA in August 2023 after their flight from Ahmedabad to Toronto was cancelled. They were notified of the cancellation less than two weeks before their departure.

The airline did offer to rebook them on a flight that was almost a month later – which didn’t meet their needs. The passengers booked another flight and requested compensation from the airline, but the airline claimed the cancellation was for reasons outside of their control.

The reason? The government of India had issued an air transportation order which limited commercial flights with some countries. But they issued the order nine months before the passengers bought their tickets, so the CTA determined that this situation wasn’t outside of the airline’s control.

The CTA found that the airline’s communication about the flight cancellation was lacking, because they didn’t give the passengers a clear reason why the flight was cancelled. Instead of providing a reason, they simply said the situation was out of their control, which could have prevented the passengers from pursuing a claim if they didn’t know their rights.

The CTA ruling: the airline owed each passenger $400 in compensation, plus a refund for the unused portion of their flight.

The takeaway: Airlines must give accurate information about delays

Recently, there was a larger ruling about how airlines communicate the reasons for delays to passengers. The upshot: airlines now have to tell passengers why their flight is delayed so that passengers can make an informed decision about whether to seek compensation.

Under the new rules, airlines have to choose the most prominent reason for the delay and communicate it to passengers when they announce the flight delay. They’re no longer allowed to hide behind vague reasons or make a false claim about the reason for the delay.

Although the reasons for flight delays can get complicated, the legal requirement to provide a main reason will help passengers understand the crux of the issue. In this case, the law had already been in place long enough that the airline should have understood whether or not it could sell a ticket.

One common factor: the CTA is slow to take on claims

If you browse through the CTA rulings, you might notice that many of the rulings in late 2023 are for flights from a few years earlier. Some are even from before the pandemic. That’s because the CTA is still dealing with a backlog of complaints – in June, City News reported there were over 47,000 claims still waiting to be heard.

They also reported that many passengers are avoiding the government claims process and taking airlines to small claims court. Instead of waiting a few years for the CTA to make a decision on their case, small claims court helps ensure they get compensation faster.

So why do some people stick with their CTA claim? Filing a claim with the CTA can prevent you from being able to file a claim in small claims court. Going this route can make you wind up stuck spending years trying to get compensated.

Part of getting compensated efficiently is knowing how the system works, but many passengers are confused about their rights.

What can you do if you think you’re entitled to flight compensation for a delay?

So if you’re on a flight that gets delayed, what can you do? Here are a few lessons from the cases we’ve covered:

Save the evidence: save boarding passes and record your arrival time at your destination. Also be sure to save any communication you receive from the airline about the reason for your delay, especially if it seems like something that could be the airline’s fault.

Save your receipts: even if you can’t make a case for full compensation, you might still be able to get your food and lodging expenses reimbursed. If the delay was for safety issues but still within the airline’s control, they’re required to pay for meals and hotels within reason.

Talk to an expert: at Click2Refund, we’ll do the legwork to help you get compensated if you have a valid claim. We can:

  • Explain whether or not you are entitled to compensation for your delay
  • Communicate with airlines on your behalf to get the compensation you’re entitled to

Our no-win, no-fee approach means you don’t owe us anything. Instead, we’ll only take a percentage of your claim if you win.

Understanding your rights is the first step

The first and most important step to a flight delay compensation claim is understanding your passenger’s rights. However, as we’ve seen from many CTA cases, that can be a thorny issue for many passengers, which is why so many passengers don’t make a claim in the first place.

At Click2Refund, our experts can help you understand your rights so you can make an informed decision, rather than spending months or even years chasing a claim that won’t make it in court – or worse, thinking you don’t have a valid claim when you actually do!

Get started with us by checking your flight delay compensation claim today.

Written by: Click2Refund