Daniel Otis, CTVNews.ca Writer | January 4, 2022
A passenger checks the airline departure board at Miami International Airport Tuesday, Jan. 4, 2022, in Miami. (AP Photo/Marta Lavandier)
Surging COVID-19 case numbers and severe weather have seen scores of recent flight cancellations and delays in Canada and abroad. Unfortunately for Canadian travellers, instead of meal vouchers, hotel stays or financial compensation, the most they can usually expect from their airline is a new flight or a refund.
“You’re really beholden to the airlines as to how quickly they can get you home,” Martin Firestone, president of Travel Secure, a Toronto-based travel insurance brokerage, told CTVNews.ca in a phone interview.
Firestone says traditional travel insurance has not covered these kinds of flight interruptions since March 2020, when the world began responding to the COVID-19 pandemic.
“Bottom line: insurance is not going to be your saviour on this one with respect to covering expenses of hotels, meals or anything like that if your flight get cancelled,” he explained. “That’s problematic.”
According to Canada’s Air Passenger Protection Regulations, if a flight to, from or within Canada is cancelled or delayed due to reasons outside of an airline’s control, you are entitled to a rebooking or a refund if the passenger decides not to travel.
In July 2021, Ottawa also proposed new rules to require refunds for cancelled flights.
If a delay or cancellation is within their control, airlines are obligated to provide things like hotel stays and money for out-of-pocket expenses, although there’s never any harm in asking nicely for additional assistance when speaking with an airline representative.
There are still a few things you can do to make your life easier if you have to travel right now, such as checking your flight status before you go to the airport, and if needed, rebooking with your airline as soon as possible. When making travel plans, you can also consider purchasing additional travel insurance in case you test positive for COVID-19 while away, which can provide funds to help offset hotel and flight costs.
If you’re willing to postpone or cancel your trip and wait out the Omicron wave, many airlines such as Air Canada and WestJet are currently waiving some change and cancellation penalties, but be sure to check your individual airline’s policies.
If you do end up getting stuck at an airport, in a customer service line, or on an hours-long call waiting for someone to help, Firestone says you should always “pack a little patience.”
“Three hours is not abnormal to wait to get information on the next flight,” he said. “If you go in with an aggressive attitude, you’re not going to get very far.”
That being said, complaints about how an airline handled a delay or cancellation can be filed with the Canadian Transportation Agency. Passenger rights advocate Gabor Lukacs said you can also challenge an airline’s explanation for a delay or cancellation in small claims court.
“In practical terms, there is nothing else to make airlines to comply with the law and respect your rights as a passenger,” he told CTVNews.ca. “The airline can say it was COVID-19, but if they cannot prove it, the airline will have to pay compensation.”