Passenger rights: What you should do if you’re stranded on a plane

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Airline passenger rights advocate Gabor Lukacs says air travellers have many rights when things go wrong, but the rules governing those rights just aren’t being enforced.

When an airline seeks permission to operate internationally, it creates a document known as a tariff, Lukacs says. The tariff addresses a wealth of issues relating to the both the airline and passengers that “are not merely recommendations.

“These are binding — whatever is in the tariff is very much legally binding on the airline,” the Halifax-based Lukacs says, adding that it is the Canadian Transportation Agency that is charged with enforcing those rights.

The federal agency has launched an inquiry into why passengers were forced to spend hours on two Air Transat jets that were diverted to Ottawa last week from Montreal because of severe weather.Passengers spent six hours trapped aboard one plane on the tarmac; several passengers called 911 after the plane ran out of drinking water and fuel, leaving it without air conditioning. One person was treated on the plane and passengers were given bottled water.

Postmedia spoke to Lukacs Monday about what passengers can do should they find themselves in a similar situation.

Q:Is 90 minutes the minimum amount of time that a passenger has to waitbefore they can ask to leave the aircraft?

A:Yes.

(According toAir Transat’s tariff:“If the delay exceeds 90 minutes and if the aircraft commander permits, the Carrier will offer passengers the option of disembarking until it is time to depart.”)

Q:In situations such as last week’s, what can passengers do? Should they call 911?

A:Absolutely, yes. I think that was a very good idea and I would encourage passengers to do that in the future. The airline has no right whatsoever to keep you confined to the aircraft for that long, and if you want to disembark also make sure that (you) tell the airline that you would like to disembark and pull out a copy of the airline’s terms and conditions and politely and respectfully show it to the airline employees. Advise them that if they are not going to let you off that you will be calling 911.

Q:Should passengers also be tweeting for help?

A:Absolutely. Social media was very important here. I would also suggest taking out your cellphones and begin to record. Even if airline employees tell you you cannot,keep recording. Don’t worry about it. You do have the right to record, especially when you are in a dire situation. Don’t let the airline get away with it.

Q:What should passengers do after they have experienced an incident like this one?

A:When something like this happens, take the airline to court after the incident. Make sure that it costs the airline money to do what they have done to you.

Q:Why take the airline to court after?

A:Airlines are not going to change their behaviour just because it’s the right thing to do. We live in a world where airlines will change course if the financial cost of following a different course or staying on a current course is too high. With litigation you can make sure that there is a public image cost to the airline, there is a financial cost for litigation, there is potentially a risk for a bad case law for the airline. When you combine all of this, it’s important to attach a price tag for not following the rules.

Q:Would the passengers stranded in Ottawa be entitled to monetary compensation for being kept orhours on the plane?

A:There are two separate issues for which passengers can and should seekcompensation from Air Transat. The first is the delay. The flight’s destination was Montreal, but it departed fromwithin the EU.Since the delay was over three hours, Air Transat owes monetary compensation(in cash, not vouchers), and since the delay was over four hours on a transatlantic flight, Air Transatowes 600 euros per passenger —again, in cash. Secondly, breach of contract/being confined to the aircraft for a long time: The amount of compensation is to be determined by a court. But I suspectthat a Quebec small claims court judge would award at least $1,000 perpassenger for this, possibly more.

More information is available atwww.airpassengerrights.ca.

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