Passenger bill of rights: New rules for air travel start today

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Some of the government's new air passenger protection regulations take effect this week, but anyone hoping for compensation for delayed or cancelled flights will have to wait until the end of the year.

And anyone seeking redress for cancellations related to emergency aircraft maintenance, such as the engine trouble that led to 23 flights on WestJet's low-cost subsidiary Swoop being eliminated earlier this month, might as well quit looking now.

The first phase of the so-called passenger bill of rights goes into force Monday. It requires airlines to provide compensation of up to $2,400 to passengers who are bumped from flights for reasons within the airline's control. Passengers whose luggage is lost or damaged will be eligible for up to $2,100, as well as a refund of their baggage fees.

Airlines will also be required to  provide certain standards of treatment during tarmac delays and allow passengers to leave the aircraft after a three-hour delay if take-off is not imminent, as well as to create clear policies around the handling of musical instruments and provide all passengers with information about their rights and regular updates about any delays and cancellations.

More new requirements are slated to take effect Dec. 15, including compensation of up to $1,000 for flight delays and cancellations that are deemed to be within an airline's control but not related to safety, a requirement that airlines rebook or refund passengers when flights are delayed, even if doing so means giving them a ticket for another airline, providing food, drink and accommodation during flight delays, and ensuring children under the age of 14 are able to sit near their parents for no extra charge.

Airlines are able to offer compensation at levels above what the government will now require and in situations other than the ones described above.

To many observers, the key phrase in these beefed-up regulations is "within an airline's control." If an issue is caused by bad weather, emergency maintenance, airport operational problems or medical emergencies, airlines do not have to pay compensation.

Gabor Lukacs, founder of the advocacy group Air Passenger Rights, has argued that the new regulations still leave Canada well behind the U.S. and Europe in granting power to passengers.

Lukacs has argued that tarmac delays should be capped at 90 minutes and refunds should be offered for all delays and cancellations outside of extreme circumstances.

In the case of Swoop, which cancelled 23 flights over six days this month, the fact the engine problem was not discovered during routine maintenance meant the airline would not owe its passengers any extra compensation.

The new regulations are generally in line with what major carriers had already been doing, although that hasn't stopped some of them from attempting to stop the regulations in court.

Air Canada and Porter Airlines, among others, filed an application earlier this month for the new rules to be struck down, arguing that the required payments violate international standards and could cause confusion for passengers.

The Air Transport Association of Canada, which represents leading airlines, has said that the new regulations will lead to increased fares.