Air transportation is one of the industries hardest hit by the COVID-19 pandemic. While hundreds of flights are canceled due to travel restrictions, consumers are wondering what their rights are.
Kyle Read is a Canadian citizen currently living in Australia, trying to get home. The BCIT graduate worked with Cirque du Soleil as an electrician, but when the shows were canceled, he decided to go home.
“I went to the website and researched and chose a flight that they still offered,” Read told CTV News. “I booked a ticket with Air Canada, and then three days later, they wrote me an email telling me that they had canceled my flight and that they were not going to refund the money. “
Meanwhile, the airline had updated its route suspensions, stopping flights from Sydney to Vancouver until at least June 23.
“So now I’m stuck here, with $ 2,600 less in my pocket, still no return home and no guarantees of a return home. “
Air passenger rights lawyer Gabor Lukacs said airlines offering travelers checks instead of refunds were “flights”.
“It is money that belongs to passengers and the airlines are trying to keep it, without any semblance of a legitimate excuse,” said Lukacs.
Passengers are legally entitled to reimbursements under the Canadian Airlines Code of Conduct if a flight is canceled. Lukacs says a statement posted on the Canadian Transportation Agency website violates this code of conduct.
He said that “an appropriate approach in the current context could be for the airlines to provide the passengers concerned with vouchers or credits for future journeys” instead of full reimbursements.
But Lukacs says the statement is not legally binding and has asked the Federal Court of Appeal to have it withdrawn.
“This statement is widely used by travel agencies, airlines, travel insurance companies, credit card companies as an excuse to prevent passengers from recovering their money. We must inform the public that all of this information is false, “said Lukacs.
When CTV News contacted Air Canada regarding Read’s flight and the issuance of travel vouchers, we were directed to the updated route schedule and the Canadian Transportation Agency statement.
But an economist at the University of British Columbia says that given today’s climate, travel vouchers could be part of a bigger picture.
“In the end, the question is really who pays for COVID? Said Professor James Brander.
“The economic damage caused by COVID is very significant. Airlines, airline employees, airline shareholders, airline customers will all pay something, as will the federal government, which basically means taxpayers as a whole. “
He says that since the federal government allows airlines to offer coupons instead of issuing full refunds, it is effectively putting a pause on the economic impact for the airline industry.
“It is a difficult economic decision for the government to make. Personally, I think this is the right decision, “said Brander. “There are public health and economic problems. I think it’s really important to deal with public health issues first. “
But Lukacs says customers must stay firm if they don’t want a travel voucher.
“Refuse it, then contact your credit card company and initiate a chargeback based on the services not rendered,” said Lukacs. “They may try to push that back, but if you are firm, you know your rights and you can explain clearly that you did not get the services for which you paid, and that when you signed the contract, you did not agree to take vouchers, so they should initiate a chargeback. “