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EXCLUSIVE: Air Canada can now keep you grounded on a plane for 4 hours

Last Updated May 11, 2018 at 6:12 pm EDT

Air Canada has quietly changed its rules on how long it can keep you on the tarmac when your flight can’t take off.

According to the federal government, the national standard for Canadian air carriers to keep passengers on the tarmac is 90 minutes before they have to let you off the plane.

But CityNews has learned Air Canada recently changed its domestic and international tariff rules for tarmac delays, meaning passengers could be stuck on a plane for up to four hours.

Customers were not given explicit notice, but the change is now in the fine print.

“Air Canada will not permit an aircraft to remain on the tarmac at a Canadian or U.S. airport for more than four hours,” the tariff says. “Prior to reaching four hours, Air Canada will return the aircraft to the gate or another suitable disembarkation point, where passengers will be given an opportunity to deplane.”

CityNews spoke with Air Canada passengers about what they thought was a reasonable amount of time to be waiting on the tarmac and if they knew about the change.

“It is dishonest, it is wrong, it is unlawful,” said air passenger rights advocate Gabor Lukacs. “If an airline keeps you on the aircraft beyond the point that you have expressed to disembark, then it very quickly becomes a case of forcible confinement.”

A formal complaint has been filed by Lukacs with the Canadian Transportation Agency.

“I’m asking them to apply the law and restore the reasonable terms and conditions that have been in existence for nearly a decade which requires Air Canada to offer passengers the option to disembark after 90 minutes,” said Lukacs.

The agency has confirmed it has received an official complaint about Air Canada’s tariff changes, but declined to comment on the case.

Air Canada tells CityNews four hours is in keeping with the industry standard south of the border.

“Our 90-minute commitment in our tariffs was best efforts based on various factors, but our standing policy was four hours as a firm timeline, in line with the U.S. standard,” the airline said.

The tariff change comes on the heels of some very public tarmac delays from Sunwing and Air Transat. The multiple delays from Sunwing are being investigated by the Canadian Transportation Agency. Air Transat was fined $295,000 and ordered to cover out-of-pocket expenses of affected passengers.

It also comes ahead of expected changes to Bill C-49, aimed at providing more protections for airline passengers

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