Many years ago, my extended family planned a party for my wife and I upon return from our honeymoon. Because our scheduled flight out of London got postponed by a day, we missed the bash entirely. Apparently, guests still had a great time.
On another occasion, we were no-shows to a pre-wedding dinner with the bridal party after our flight from Lisbon to Paris was delayed by eight hours.
It’s safe to say nearly everyone has a similar story of a cancelled or delayed flight that has spoiled personal or business obligations, particularly in recent months. Airlines often cite mechanical issues or crew member shortages as good reasons for a disruption in service. Sometimes it’s a function of bad weather, air traffic control limitations, or lack of airport security personnel to process large volumes of passengers that throws a wrench into travelling by air.
Suffice it to say, delays are either the airline’s fault or beyond their control. Regardless, new rules introduced this week (more details below) obligate companies such as Air Canada and WestJet to reimburse (as opposed to providing credits or vouchers) passengers for cancelled flights even if the cancellation is beyond their control. In such cases, compensation is a regulatory obligation. The rules also dictate that airlines must rebook passengers of cancelled flights on another plane within 48 hours, or if they can’t, reimburse them within 30 days, as well as provide additional compensation upon passenger request.
Yet advocates say the revised regulations don’t go far enough and are essentially useless if for example, a traveller encounters a cancelled flight (inside of 14 days’ notice) that was to depart on a Friday and is subsequently rebooked within the 48 hour window for the day they’re scheduled to return from a weekend getaway. Technically, no compensation is required on the part of the airline. Obviously, the rules don’t cover every single situation or nuance, but for most other situations apply even if the airlines are not at fault.
One part of the discussion that seems to be muted is what it will cost the airlines and ultimately passengers vis-a-vis cancelled flights in particular. As I referenced, airlines must now provide supplementary compensation for instances beyond their control, which in the long run will result in higher ticket prices for travellers to help offset the increased cost to the carrier.
To be clear…airlines need to take responsibility and be held accountable for situations within their sphere of influence, and do everything possible to avoid delays or cancellations. But so do airports and the federal government, which are currently absolved of any financial obligations even if they’re the culprits for the service disruptions. Moreover, compensation for cancellations beyond the purview of the carriers (e.g. severe weather) should not be borne by the airlines alone, or by extension you and me.
At face value, the new refund and compensation rules appear to be a step in the right direction and could adequately compensate customers for missing an important meeting or event. But, as I alluded to earlier, there are other factors to consider in this equation that may be worth further review and changes to policy.
I foresee a time where all transportation providers could face similar obligations vis-a-vis penalties for cancellations or delays…which many consumers would seemingly welcome unless the financial burden is also placed on the passengers themselves via higher ticketing costs…as is likely to be the case with air travel.
Conversely, I also think we need to face the fact that issues such as widespread staff shortages, climate-change related weather events, pandemics, or other factors will continue to impact how, when and where we travel no matter what time of year or mode of transportation. Combined with increasing prices, it makes me wonder how the tourism industry will be affected given that we rely on the efficient and affordable movement of people, not to mention international visitors to help sustain our visitor economy.
My most recent travel delay happened to be in a car rather than an airplane. I missed a gathering with friends on Labour Day after a massive traffic jam on the Coquihalla due to highway construction extended my return trip from Kelowna by a few hours. Next time I won’t attempt to drive home on the unofficial last day of summer vacation and instead take a calculated risk of a delay or cancellation and fly instead.