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explainer

Air Canada planes sit on the tarmac at Pearson International Airport in Toronto on April 28, 2021.Nathan Denette/The Canadian Press

Air Canada announced last week that it was cancelling thousands of flights in July and August in an effort to quell what it said were “unprecedented strains” that the overwhelming resurgence of travel had placed on the airline industry.

The airline was already operating at just 80 per cent of prepandemic levels. The move prompted outrage from consumers and advocates, who say Air Canada should offer better compensation to the hundreds of thousands of passengers whose summer flights have now been cancelled.

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Air Canada spokesman Peter Fitzpatrick said the airline believes the schedule changes announced last week will help stabilize the situation, but warned that it will take time.

Here’s what the cancellations mean for your travel plans.

How many flights will be cancelled?

More than 9,500 flights will be cancelled in July and August – or an average of 154 flights per day – as Air Canada looks to cut 15 per cent of its schedule, most of which will be to and from Toronto or Montreal.

Three routes from Montreal to Pittsburgh, Baltimore and Kelowna, B.C., will be temporarily suspended. Air Canada will also suspend its route from Toronto to Fort McMurray, Alta.

International flights will remain unaffected, in part because they are harder to rebook, Mr. Fitzpatrick said.

Some of the main issues for the airline relate to late-evening flights using single-aisle aircrafts, he said. Reducing evening flights, Mr. Fitzpatrick added, will allow Air Canada to improve start-up performance the next morning, help stabilize the airline’s schedule and aid in other areas such as baggage handling, catering and plane grooming.

Is Air Canada offering refunds and financial compensation?

Currently, Air Canada’s policy for delays and cancellations provides customers with the option of receiving a full refund no matter the reason in the event a flight is cancelled, delayed more than three hours or if a connection is added to an itinerary.

The airline also offers compensation – distinct from refunds – of between $400 and $1,000 either because of a cancellation or delay for travellers who arrive at their final destination three or more hours after their scheduled time of arrival for reasons deemed within Air Canada’s control, and unrelated to safety issues.

Cancellations because of reasons within Air Canada’s control include crew scheduling issues or when necessary equipment is unavailable. However, travellers who have had their flights cancelled because of safety problems such as maintenance issues, travel advisory updates, bad weather and sick crew members or passengers will not be eligible for compensation.

More protections for passengers are coming. Amendments to the Air Passenger Protection Regulations, which took force in 2019, will require airlines to provide refunds or alternative flights to passengers whose trips are cancelled or delayed by at least three hours for reasons outside the control of the carriers. They will go into effect on Sept. 8.

Airlines to refund passengers facing lengthy delays, cancellations under new regulations

The changes allow customers to choose between a refund or another flight that leaves within 48 hours on the airline in question, or a partner airline, at no additional cost. Large carriers are required to put customers on competitors’ planes. But until then, passengers whose flights are cancelled or delayed by three hours or more for reasons the airline cannot control, including weather or closed borders, are not entitled to a refund, and the airline must rebook them on the next available flight.

How to check if your flight is affected

Air Canada’s flight-status page on its website allows passengers who have already booked a flight to see whether it has been cancelled up to one week ahead of time. Travellers with a reservation can enter their flight number or flight route and departure date into the search engine.

When you book a flight with Air Canada, the airline says you are also automatically enrolled to receive flight notifications, which can be reconfirmed when you check in. For further questions, travellers within Canada and the U.S. can call 1-888-247-2262 at any time.

What to do if your luggage gets lost

If you can’t find your luggage at the baggage claim, Air Canada says to contact your airline’s baggage-service agent upon arrival, who will ask for your contact information, a detailed description of your luggage and items, your baggage claim stubs and boarding passes.

That information will be used to help you create a WorldTracer incident report, which you can use on the WorldTracer website to update or review the status of your lost luggage. Air Canada advises anyone who doesn’t immediately create this incident report to call Air Canada’s Central Baggage Office at 1-888-689-2247 as soon as possible, at any time.

If your luggage isn’t found after three days, you’ll be asked to fill out a Baggage Tracing form, which can be found here.

If your baggage is lost, Air Canada will refund checked-baggage fees and offers interim reimbursements for “reasonable expenses that you’ve incurred for rentals or essential items.” You may request to be reimbursed here, as long as your claims are supported by receipts.

“Each delayed bag is costly for us to handle and deliver post-flight, so we are doubly incentivized to have bags arrive with the customers,” Air Canada said in an e-mailed statement.

With reports from David Milstead, Eric Atkins and The Canadian Press.