Coronavirus: airline customers struggle to get reimbursements during a pandemic


Feeling a side effect of the current coronavirus crisis, Phyllis Paroshy says it bluntly.

“There are thousands of consumers who are robbed of what is rightfully theirs,” said the future traveler in the outdoor courtyard of her condominium building in Guelph, Ontario.

Paroshy described his growing frustration with a travel company and Air Canada. She says that although she will not be able to do the tour she booked with Insight Vacations in Eastern Europe in late May because of COVID-19, Paroshy cannot get her money back – a total of almost $ 5,000 .

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“I was amazed to find that I was not entitled to a refund, I was only offered credit,” she told Global News in a TV interview.

Its history resembles that of hundreds, if not thousands, of Canadian travelers.

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When the COVID-19 virus began to spread from country to country in March, airlines and tour operators began to cancel flights and travel reservations.

By the time governments warned against unnecessary travel or virtually closed their borders to visitors, operators have already informed most of their customers that their trips will not continue.

But instead of offering to reimburse consumers for their money, travel agencies have generally offered credits for future trips in the next two years.

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“Two years is a long time,” said Paroshy.

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“Businesses can go bankrupt, whether tour operators, insurance – any.”

Normally, if a company like an airline or tour operator cannot provide a prepaid service, it reimburses the customer. But not in the COVID-19 era.

“Airlines are trying to steal money from the public,” said Gabor Lukacs, founder of Air Passenger Rights, a Halifax-based non-profit consumer group that focuses on air transportation issues.

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“The government is misleading the public. The laws and regulations regarding airlines have not changed at all, “Lukacs told Global News in an interview.

Lukacs said travel agencies rely on a statement from the Canadian Transportation Agency (CTA) posted on its website to justify the offer of credits rather than refunds. The CTA regulates the transportation industry in Canada.

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In its statement, CTA said: “On the one hand, passengers who have no prospect of completing their planned routes with the help of an airline should not simply pay for the cost of canceled flights. Airlines, on the other hand, are facing huge declines in passenger volumes and revenues to take action that could threaten their economic viability. “

Airline class action plan

Airline class action plan

The CTA concludes that “generally speaking, an appropriate approach in the present context could be for the airlines to provide the passengers concerned with vouchers or credits for future journeys, as long as these vouchers or credits do not expire in an unreasonably short period of time (24 months would be considered reasonable in most cases). “

Lukacs, a frequent critic of the agency, challenged the CTA before the Federal Court of Appeal over the statement, which is cited by some tour operators denying refunds.

“The federal regulator has issued an illegal statement regarding supporting documentation which has no legal basis. It is used by airlines, travel agencies and the insurance industry to mislead passengers into believing that they must accept vouchers, “he said.

Some travel insurance companies have rejected insurance claims and argue that an airline’s willingness to provide future travel proves that the consumer has suffered no loss.

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Paroshy was denied insurance after the tour operator and Air Canada refused to reimburse.

At 75, she says that a future travel credit is not worth much.

“I don’t know if I will be healthy or fit enough for the next two years to travel. I would certainly not want to take any risks if the virus is still present, ”she said.

Paroshy bought and paid for his trip to Europe last November, well before the first cases of COVID-19 were reported.

Now, in a world of closings, business closings and great uncertainty, Paroshy and many consumers like her have other, more pressing priorities. A refund, not a credit, is preferable.

“I could use this money. “

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How do I get it?

Lukacs recommends that travelers file a complaint with their credit card company and insist on a chargeback. He says he is aware of many positive results in the past month.

“Credit card issuers have a legal obligation to waive fees when the consumer does not receive the goods they have paid for,” he said.

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© 2020 Global News, a division of Corus Entertainment Inc.


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