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Flight issues? Here’s what you need to know about getting compensation

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Delayed and cancelled flights are a reality this summer amid surging demand for travel, so customers should know whether they can expect compensation from airlines under federal regulations.

The Air Passenger Protection Regulations say ticket holders are entitled to financial compensation if they arrive at their destination at least three hours late, or if their flight was cancelled and the disruption was unrelated to safety issues or outside the airline’s control.

Some airlines have been criticized over their explanations for the disruptions, including both Air Canada and WestJet citing staffing shortages as a safety issue. The Canadian Transportation Agency has disputed lack of staff as valid under compensation rules.

A July 8 ruling by the CTA said the threshold was high for an airline to use staffing shortages as a safety issue and found in that instance that WestJet had not met it, ordering the airline to pay what was owed to the traveller.

The CTA previously looked into the issue of cited reasons for disruptions in 2020 and found there were multiple communication issues leading to passenger frustration, but found no evidence that the airlines deliberately mischaracterized the reasons for delays and cancellation.

To dispute an airline’s decision, customers need to file a request in writing for compensation to the airlines, which then have 30 days to respond.

If a traveller is unsatisfied with the airline’s response they can then file a complaint to the CTA though the agency’s website, but a huge backlog means travellers could have to wait some time to get a response.

The CTA faced a total of 28,673 complaints for the year up to March 31, including 12,158 new complaints and the carry-over of 16,515 reports from the previous fiscal year. Of the total, about half involved flight disruptions, while ticketing and reservations complaints also numbered in the thousands.

The higher numbers come even though many travellers don’t bother to appeal their decision. Up to two-thirds of Canadian claimants give up their claim after an initial rejection by the airline, according to an online YouGov survey in 2019, though awareness of the new rules could have improved since then.

Appealing could well be worthwhile though, as a 2019 study from AirHelp, a German company that helps process claims, found that airlines wrongfully reject more than 50 per cent of valid claims at first.

The potential payouts for customers vary depending on a few factors including how lengthy the delay, how big the airline, and how much notice was given, as well as the question of whether the issue was within the airline’s control and not a safety issue.

If the trip was cancelled within 14 days or less, passengers are owed $1,000 for a cancellation or delay of nine hours or more, and between $400 and $700 for delays of three to nine hours.

For those informed more than two weeks in advance, they are owed alternate travel arrangements or a refund, at the traveller’s choice.

No matter how long the notice, a passenger who opts to reject a rebooking should receive $400 in compensation from large airlines and $125 for small airlines, on top of a refund.

Those denied boarding, such as from overbooking, could see between $900 and $2,400 depending on how much it delays their arrival, while there are also rules on compensation for lost and damaged baggage that can go up to $2,300.

Added rights also come into force on Sept. 8 where even if the cause of the delay is outside the airline’s control, they must rebook the traveller within 48 hours on their or a competitor’s flight or the traveller will be eligible for a refund.

Previously, the passenger rights regime only required refunds for flight disruptions that were within the airline’s control, which excluded situations ranging from weather to war to unscheduled mechanical issues.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Aug. 8, 2022.

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COVID-19

HIV spike among B.C. drug users associated with COVID-19 lockdown, research says

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By Brieanna Charlebois in Vancouver

A new study says reduced access to HIV services during early COVID-19 lockdowns in British Columbia was associated with a “sharp increase” in HIV transmission among some drug users.

The study by University of British Columbia researchers says that while reduced social interaction during the March-May 2020 lockdown worked to reduce HIV transmission, that may not have “outweighed” the increase caused by reduced access to services.

The study, published in Lancet Regional Health, found that fewer people started HIV antiretroviral therapy or undertook viral load testing under lockdown, while visits to overdose prevention services and safe consumption sites also decreased.

The overall number of new HIV diagnoses in B.C. continues a decades-long decline.

But Dr. Jeffrey Joy, lead author of the report published on Friday, said he found a “surprising” spike in transmission among some drug users during lockdown.

Joy said transmission rates for such people had previously been fairly stable for about a decade.

“That’s because there’s been really good penetration of treatment and prevention services into those populations,” he said in an interview.

B.C. was a global leader in epidemic monitoring, which means the results are likely applicable elsewhere, Joy said.

“We are uniquely positioned to find these things,” he said. “The reason that I thought it was important to do this study and get it out there is (because) it’s probably happening everywhere, but other places don’t monitor their HIV epidemic in the same way that we do.”

Rachel Miller, a co-author of the report, said health authorities need to consider innovative solutions so the measures “put in place to address one health crisis don’t inadvertently exacerbate another.”

“These services are the front-line defence in the fight against HIV/AIDS. Many of them faced disruptions, closures, capacity limits and other challenges,” Miller said in a news release.

“Maintaining access and engagement with HIV services is absolutely essential to preventing regression in epidemic control and unnecessary harm.”

The Health Ministry did not immediately respond to requests for comment.

Researchers said the spike among “select groups” could be attributed to a combination of factors, including housing instability and diminished trust, increasing barriers for many people who normally receive HIV services.

British Columbia is set to become the first province in Canada to decriminalize the possession of small amounts of hard drugs in January, after receiving a temporary federal exemption in May.

Joy said this decision, alongside measures like safe supply and safe needle exchanges, will make a difference preventing similar issues in the future.

“The take-home message here is, in times of crisis and public health emergency or other crises, we need to support those really vulnerable populations more, not less,” he said.

“Minimally, we need to give them continuity and the access to their services that they depend on. Otherwise, it just leads to problems that can have long, long-term consequences.”

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Sept. 24, 2022.

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Tragedies unite Humboldt Broncos mom and James Smith Cree Nation artist

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By Mickey Djuric in Regina

Celeste Leray-Leicht received many condolence gifts after the Humboldt Broncos bus crash that claimed the life of her son, but it was a beaded green and yellow ribbon with a white heart that stood out.

Leray-Leicht wore it for years after her son Jacob Leicht died. It now lives on her vehicle’s visor, next to a photo of her children when they were little, alongside a poppy.

She always felt a connection to the beaded ribbon because of the heart.

“My son Jacob, he was a Valentine baby, so I’m drawn to hearts,” Leray-Leicht said from her home in Humboldt, Sask., east of Saskatoon.

On April 6, 2018, near Tisdale, Sask., 16 people were killed and 13 were injured when an inexperienced truck driver ran a stop sign, crashing into a bus that was taking the Humboldt Broncos junior hockey team to a playoff game.

Leray-Leicht’s son played with the Broncos and was 19 when he died in the crash.

She never knew who gifted her the beaded pin, but she found out when she headed out to James Smith Cree Nation, northeast of Saskatoon, to drop off food and other donations earlier this month.

Bernard Constant Community School on the reserve has become a gathering hub after a stabbing rampage on Sept. 4 that killed 10 people, nine of whom were James Smith Cree Nation members. Eighteen others were injured. Both suspects have died.

The school is where funerals and wakes were held, where volunteers continue to cook throughout the day to keep members fed as they recover. It’s also where people come to pray.

On Sept. 11, it became the place where two women, dealing with devastating loss, came face to face for the first time.

While in the school’s gym, Leray-Leicht met Lissa Bear, who is a member of James Smith Cree Nation, and has been grieving alongside her community.

She’s also the Indigenous artist who anonymously gifted her the beaded ribbon that had always reminded Leray-Leicht of Jacob.

To Leray-Leicht’s surprise, Bear had approached her saying she had sent her the pin years ago.

“And I said ‘I just looked at that pin half an hour ago,” Leray-Leicht said. “We were kindred spirits. We instantly hit it off.”

Leray-Leicht said it was remarkable to meet Bear, despite the tragedies that unite them.

“I think God is in the details and I don’t really believe in coincidences too much. I think we’ll become good friends,” said Leray-Leicht. “It was just so special to me.”

Bear declined to comment, but gave consent to Leray-Leicht to share the story.

Humboldt and James Smith Cree Nation are 125 kilometres apart, but are connected through their grief.

Since the mass stabbing, families from Humboldt have silently attended funerals, donated food and offered support to people in the Indigenous community.

“As adults and leaders in the community, it’s our responsibility to try and find as many supports as we can for our youth and for our adults without reliving the trauma over and over again,” Leray-Leicht said.

Students in Humboldt wrote messages of hope on hearts for James Smith Cree Nation, something a nearby community did for them in 2018 after the bus crash.

At a vigil in Humboldt on Sept. 14, the hearts were placed in baskets alongside chocolate Hershey hugs, and were given to James Smith Cree Nation Chief Wally Burns. They asked him to pass them along to the youth of his community.

“When asked ‘what do you need?’ and they say prayers, I can relate,” said Leray-Leicht, who helped plan the vigil. “That’s all I remember thinking — ‘That’s what we needed, too.’ Prayers to lift us up to survive this devastating loss.”

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Sept. 24, 2022.

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