03/21/2014 05:00 EDT | Updated 05/20/2014 05:59 EDT

5 Things You Need To Know About Your Flight Rights

Vince Talotta via Getty Images
TORONTO, ON - JANUARY 11: Passengers in line up at Terminal 1 waiting to check in and receive boarding passes at Pearson International airport in Toronto on January 11, 2014. (Vince Talotta/Toronto Star via Getty Images)

You've packed your passport and sunscreen, but do you know your air travel rights?

An investigation by CBC Marketplace reveals that Canadians aren't always aware of their consumer rights when it comes to problems with their flight.

"Passengers are really unaware of their rights, unfortunately," consumer advocate Gabor Lukacs tells Marketplace co-host Tom Harrington.

"The reality in Canada is that the passengers themselves are the primary people who are supposed to enforce those rights," Lukacs says.

Last fall, Industry Minister James Moore said the federal government was looking to strengthen consumer protections for air travellers. But Ottawa has still not introduced any new measures, leaving passengers to navigate complaints individually.

As a result, Canadians are still waiting for a comprehensive air passenger bill of rights like the European Union has, which would mean higher standards for all airlines and better enforcement.

But passengers do have some rights when air travel goes wrong. Here's what you need to know before you book your next flight.

1. Problem with your luggage? You can be compensated

Don't lose your mind over lost luggage. If your bag gets lost, damaged or delayed, airlines are required to compensate you for reasonable costs until they can get your bag to you.

So, if you're on your way to a business meeting, and the airline loses your suit, you should be able to buy a new one and have the airline reimburse you.

How much you get can vary: It can be up to about $1,900 for international flights; the amount for domestic flights varies by carrier. Air Canada, for example, offers up to $1,500 for reasonable costs for domestic flights.

2. Sitting on the plane for more than 90 minutes? You can get off

Few things are as frustrating as sitting on the runway or at the gate waiting for a takeoff that keeps getting delayed.

Next time that happens, know this: If you're on the plane, and your flight is delayed more than 90 minutes, you have the right to get off the plane, as long as it's safe to disembark.

3. Bumped due to overbooking? You may be able to get cash back for that

You get to the airport and your flight is overbooked. What do you do? Getting bumped is one of the greatest grievances that air passengers can face.

What some passengers don't realize is that airlines are required to offer you some compensation depending on the length of the delay, and they have to offer you the choice of cash or a travel voucher.

For lengthy delays, airlines are also required to give you food or accommodation vouchers as well.

The specifics of what you can get should be laid out in the airline's tariff, which is its contract with you. For Air Canada, a delay of more than eight hours means you could get compensated for up to $800; with WestJet and Sunwing, that figure jumps to $1,300.

4. Delayed luggage? The airline has to hand deliver it to you

If your luggage ends up taking the scenic route, the airline is responsible for hand delivering it to you. So breathe easy, even if your holiday is disrupted because your bag didn't arrive on time, at least you don't have to go back to the airport to get it.

5. Problem with your flight and the airline won't help? There's another place you can go

In Canada, if you feel an airline has not adequately resolved a complaint, you can take the matter to the Canadian Transportation Agency.

The CTA takes complaints about a number of air travel issues and may help you get compensation from the airline.

Common complaints to the agency include problems with baggage, ticketing and disruptions to service. Customer service problems are a common complaint, although the agency does not have the authority to rule on complaints that relate to service.

The agency received more than 500 consumer complaints about airlines last year, more than 3,000 complaints in the last five years.


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