Ottawa responds to airline bumping controversy, announces new legislation

Ottawa responds to airline bumping controversy, announces new legislation

MONTREAL — Canada will introduce new legislation this spring that will address the issue of travellers being bumped from flights, the federal government said Monday, as the violent dragging of an unwilling passenger off a U.S. flight highlighted the anger caused by the practice.

Mark Roy, a spokesman for Transport Minister Marc Garneau, said bumping rules will be included in a passenger bill of rights that was promised last fall to establish clear, minimum requirements for compensation when flights are oversold or luggage lost.

Roy declined, however, to say if the legislation will set industry-wide standards or raise compensation to levels offered in the United States or Europe.

Passenger rights advocate Gabor Lukacs said the “troubling” video of a man being dragged off a United Airlines flight highlights the need for greater consumer protection.

All airlines should be required to conform to the same compensation limits with thresholds rising to a maximum of $1,500, in line with the U.S., he said.

In 2013, Lukacs won a Canadian Transportation Agency case against Air Canada, which required the airline to raise compensation to a maximum of $800 depending on the length of delay.

In 2016, United Airlines booted 3,765 passengers off flights just because it sold more tickets than there were seats on the plane, but none of those got as much attention as the man who was dragged off a plane in Chicago over the weekend.

Airlines are allowed to oversell flights, and they frequently do, because they assume that some passengers won’t show up. U.S. airlines bumped 40,000 passengers last year, not counting those who volunteered to give up their seats.

But there are some federal rules that apply.


When they know a flight is oversold, airlines will ask for volunteers to give up their seat, usually for a travel voucher or other reward, and a seat on a later flight. According to the government, 434,000 passengers voluntarily gave up seats on the country’s largest 12 airlines last year, including nearly 63,000 on United.

When voluntary offers don’t work, the airlines can deny boarding – or “bump” passengers against their will. That appears to be what happened before Sunday night’s United flight from Chicago to Louisville, Kentucky.

Federal rules spell out how much the airline must pay each passenger who is forced off a flight. Airlines must give bumped passengers a written statement that explains their compensation rights.


Compensation varies by how long the passenger will be delayed. If the airline can rebook the passenger and get him to his destination within an hour of his originally scheduled arrival time, no compensation is required.

If the passenger will arrive between one and two hours later than planned – or between one and four hours for an international flight – the airline must pay the passenger twice the amount of the one-way fare to his destination, up to $675.

If the passenger will be delayed more than two hours – or four hours for international flights – the airline must pay him four times the one-way fare, up to $1,350.


Airlines will usually bump people flying on the cheapest tickets because the required compensation will be lower. Carriers have other rules, too. United Airlines says that when deciding who gets bumped, it considers how long it will take for passengers to reach their destination on a later flight, it won’t break up a family group, and won’t bump minors who are travelling alone.

Airlines are most likely to oversell flights during busy travel periods such as spring break and the summer-vacation season, but bumping can happen any time there is bad weather that causes some flights to be cancelled.


Some savvy travellers see oversold flights as an opportunity – for them. They’ll give up their seats if the airline makes a sweet enough offer. Some check their flight’s seating chart ahead of time to see if it’s sold out. If you aim to be bumped, sit near the gate agent’s desk so you can pounce before other passengers take that offer of travel vouchers, gift cards, and sometimes cash. If offered a spot on a later flight, make sure it’s a confirmed seat. And don’t check a bag.


With file from The Canadian Press and The Associated Press

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