Coronavirus: US and EU reimburse airline passengers, but Canada sticks to vouchers


When the United States Department of Transportation recently issued an enforcement to airlines indicating that passengers affected by COVID-19 are entitled to refunds for canceled flights, Jami McMartin hoped that Canada could do the same.

However, the Canadian Transportation Agency (CTA) firmly maintains that airlines are not required to reimburse passengers for flights suspended by the pandemic.

“It is ridiculous to be honest with you. If everyone does, I think they should think about it, “said McMartin.

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The resident’s B.C. was scheduled to travel to Cuba via Sunwing Airlines on March 21, but was later forced to cancel her trip due to the coronavirus outbreak.

McMartin said Sunwing initially offered him a refund, which was being processed, but at the end of March, the airline told him that it only offered coupons.

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“Being promised something and having it treated and then stopped, makes me want to not travel because there is no protection for us,” said McMartin.

The European Union has taken a similar step in the United States, ordering airlines to reimburse customers for canceled flights, but whether the airlines follow through on this order will be another matter.

Coronavirus: travel agencies do not issue refunds

Coronavirus: travel agencies do not issue refunds

John Gradek, aviation management lecturer at McGill University, says there is a good chance airlines will take their time offering refunds.

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“If you are Canadian and you are on a flight from Europe or the United States and the flight has been canceled, you can request a refund,” he said.

“Airlines will drag their feet to reimburse and hope the Americans and the EU will change their minds, basically go back to the way the Canadian government took it and say, ‘No money, we’ll just offer a coupon. ‘

“So the chances of these regulations changing are very high.”

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Consumer Matters asked the Canadian Transportation Agency if it would consider cash refunds based on the recent U.S. decision and received the following email response:

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“In these extraordinary circumstances, it would not be unreasonable for airlines to provide vouchers or credits, even if it is not clearly required in certain situations, and for passengers to accept them,” the agency said. .

In the statement, the CTA also indicated that these vouchers or credits should not expire within an unreasonably short time (24 months would be considered reasonable in most cases).

“This approach strikes a balance between protecting passengers and the operational realities of airlines in this unprecedented situation,” the statement said. “This could help ensure that passengers do not simply lose the full value of their flights and that, in the longer term, the airline industry is able to continue to provide diversified services.”

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Gradek says he is not surprised by CTA’s decision because the airlines are facing a cash crisis.

“The airline industry is really in trouble regarding their cash flow situation, there is no future income,” said Gradek.

“They are trying to try to keep as much money as possible and they [the airlines] asked the Canadian Transportation Agency to allow them, in effect, to have a regulatory override to allow them to offer vouchers rather than cash, as they seek to keep their money and manage their money so they can survive this recession. “

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Consumer Matters also contacted Sunwing on behalf of McMartin and received the following statement:

“While we initially offered customers booked on our flights the choice between a future travel credit valid for 12 months and a full cash refund, we quickly had to adapt due to changing circumstances. Therefore, in accordance with all other Canadian airlines and tour operators, we have adjusted our policy so that all customers are treated uniformly. All customers booked on our flights will be offered a future travel credit, and as an additional gesture, we have extended the validity of this credit to two years.

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“After these government-imposed travel restrictions are lifted, we intend to provide customers with the vacation they have planned using the travel credits granted to them. This policy is in accordance with guidelines issued by the Canadian Transportation Agency and other jurisdictions, including British Columbia. “

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Passengers can still file a complaint with the Canadian Transportation Agency, but the CTA said on its website that it had temporarily suspended all dispute resolution activities involving carriers until June 30 for their allow to focus on immediate and urgent operational demands.

The agency says it will decide whether or not to extend the break by the end of June.

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