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Know your rights - what to do if your flight is cancelled or delayed

your rights when your flight is cancelled

It is almost second nature for Canadians - air travel. Unlike Europeans, who have access to an excellent international rail network, if Canadians travel anywhere abroad, we are most likely to travel by air.

And we have all been hit by flight cancellations and delays. Some of those are, on the face of it, manufactured by the airline in the hope of increasing revenue. Other delays and cancellations are due to weather, technical issues, air traffic control and airport capacity.

When your flight is cancelled or delayed, do you know your rights? Do you know what to do if your flight is cancelled or delayed?

Here is a primer, up to date as of May 2024.

Minimum standards

If your flight is delayed or cancelled, the airline must:

  • inform you about your rights and remedies

  • provide the reason for the disruption

  • give regular status updates during delays

An airline may need to provide passengers with certain minimum standards of treatment, rebooking options, refunds, and compensation for inconvenience, depending on the cause of the cancellation or delay. "May" is the operative word here as it depends on a number of factors.

Who is to blame

Whether an airline cancels or delays a flight, what you are entitled to will depend on how much control the airline has over the disruption. It can either be:

  • fully within their control, e.g. commercial decisions or day-to-day operations, such as how it manages aircraft maintenance and staffing schedules.

  • within their control but required for safety, e.g unexpected events where the disruption is legally required to reduce risk to passengers' safety.

  • outside of their control, e.g. weather conditions, instructions from air traffic control, police or security, medical emergencies, security threat, labour disputes, a manufacturing defect identified by the manufacturer or a competent authority


If the delay or cancellation is within the airline's control, you are entitled to assistance if

you have been informed within 12 hours of departure or you have been waiting at the airport for 2 hours after the scheduled departure time. Assistance includes:

  • food and drinks

  • access to means of communication (e.g. Wifi, telephone)

  • accommodation, and transportation to/from the accommodation, IF the disruption requires you to wait overnight


The airline must rebook you on another flight if your original flight is delayed for 3 hours or more or is cancelled. The new flight must take any reasonable route out of the same airport to your destination. If the new flight leaves from a nearby airport, they must provide transportation to the new airport.

Size matters

The size of the airline matters in what rebooking or refund you are entitled to. Large airlines include Air Canada (including Jazz and Rouge), WestJet, Sunwing Airlines, Air Transat, and Flair Airlines. Small airlines include Canada Jetlines, Canadian North, and Porter Airlines.

Rebooking and refunds - situations within the airline's control

All airlines must rebook you on their next available flight, or with an airline with which they have a commercial agreement.

In addition, on large airlines the new flight must depart within 9 hours of your original departure time. If the large airline cannot find such a flight, they must rebook you on a flight departing within 48 hours with any airline.

Rebooking and refunds - situations outside the airline's control

All airlines must rebook you on their next available flight, or with an airline with which they have a commercial agreement. The flight must depart within 48 hours. If they cannot provide that, they must give you a refund or you can choose alternate arrangements.

If you choose alternate arrangements, large airlines must rebook you on a flight with any airline. Small airlines must rebook you on their next available flight, or with an airline with which they have a commercial agreement.

Compensation for inconvenience

Compensation for inconvenience is only due if the disruption is fully within the airline's control. An airline will argue that a crew shortage is outside their control. It is within their control according to the government. Compensation is due if:

  • you were informed of the disruption 14 days or less before departure; or

  • you arrived in your destination more than 3 hours late

You must file a request for compensation with the airline within 1 year of the event. The amount due depends on the length of delay:

Length of delay

Large airline owes

Small airline owes

3-6 hours



6-9 hours



more than 9 hours



if you were refunded



A Government Guide

I have tried to keep this post as concise and simple as possible. The Canadian Government has published a guide to airline obligations and passenger rights which can be found here.

Stand by

Airlines are currently battling the government before the Supreme Court, arguing that some of the current rules are in contradiction with international conventions on air travel. Any decision will have a huge impact on your rights as an air traveller. Stand by as this situation develops.

your rights when your flight is delayed


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