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Posted on March 1st 2009 in Legal Articles

The Law of Travel

With the summer vacation season upon us, we thought it timely to provide information to help make your holiday as hassle free as possible.

Whether you are dealing with an airline, a cruise, a hotel or a car rental it is important to always remember that you are entering into a legal contract. Therefore, if something goes wrong, you should look to the fine print of the contract to see how problems are to be resolved.

Air Travel
If you have purchased a full fare ticket then you will have maximum flexibility in making changes to your itinerary or in obtaining a cash refund. On the other hand, if you have purchased a seat sale you are probably looking at significant restrictions. Each airline will have its own rules, so be sure to understand them before handing over your credit card.

Airlines print their conditions of carriage on the back of tickets and make them available on their websites. These conditions include such things as: check-in and boarding gate deadlines, advance seat assignments, changing your itinerary, baggage rules as well as liability for baggage and flight delays. The rules will generally apply even if you have not bothered to read them. Before filing a complaint, you should check to see if the airline has complied with its conditions of carriage.

Your cruise ticket is your contract with the cruise line. As with the conditions of carriage that apply to airlines, your cruise ticket will contain conditions about everything from delays to liability for baggage. The contract will also outline when and how you can bring a claim or lawsuit against the cruise line, as well as which country’s laws apply to the contract. This latter information is particularly important, since many cruise lines are not registered in Canada or the U.S.

In addition to the agreement outlined on your ticket, maritime law applies to passengers aboard a ship. Maritime law is a very old system which governs issues and offences that occur while a ship is at sea.

The main thing you need to know about suing a cruise line is that it is likely to be an uphill expensive battle, particularly since it will probably have to be fought in another country. Therefore, if you do have problems during a cruise you are best to try and resolve them directly with the crew while you are still on board the ship.

Travel Agents
Pursuant to the Travel Industry Act, 2002, travel agents and wholesalers, who operate in Ontario, are required to be registered with the Travel Industry Council of Ontario. To register with TICO, travel agents and wholesalers must meet a number of strict requirements regarding such things as advertising practices, finances and disclosure to clients. The Travel Industry Act, 2002, also sets up a compensation fund for travel services that have been paid for but have not been received due to bankruptcy or insolvency of the supplier

Like most professionals, travel agents are under an obligation to exercise reasonable care in performing their job, including advising you, booking reservations and confirming reservations. If the travel agent is negligent and you suffer harm or loss you may be able to bring an action against the travel agent.

You are no doubt familiar with a confirmed reservation vs a guaranteed reservation. If you have guaranteed a reservation with your credit card, you have entered into a legally binding contract with the hotel. Therefore, regardless of when you show up on the arrival day, the hotel is contractually bound to find you a room at their hotel or a comparable nearby hotel.

On the other hand, if you simply have a confirmed reservation and you show up after the cutoff time, you have breached the contract and the hotel is under no further obligation to you.

Car Rentals
When you enter into an agreement with a car rental company you are entering into a legal contract. Therefore, it is important that you review the contract carefully before initialling everywhere you are told. You should understand how many kilometres you are getting for free as well as the charge for additional kilometres. Make sure to ask about their gas policy and about charges if you are late returning the car.

If you are renting during the tourist season you may want to consider guaranteeing your rental with a credit card. If you arrive at your destination and the rental agency has no car then they have breached the contract and they must find you a vehicle, even if that means providing you with an upgrade. Even if you do not guarantee your reservation, they will probably still be under an obligation to find you a car.

Most facets of your travel plans involve contracts, even though they do not allow for any real negotiation. Take the time to understand what you are agreeing to. Although the contracts are usually quite one sided, you have a right to insist that the other party provide you with the service you contracted for. Be firm but insistent and when possible exercise your rights immediately, since a legal battle is likely to be difficult and expensive.

Finally, remember that whether it is a car rental company, a hotel or a travel agent, all are competitive businesses and they all want happy customers. So stand up for yourself.