Air Canada has quietly changed its refund policy to allow certain customers whose flights have been canceled due to the COVID-19 pandemic to recover their money – but not passengers whose journeys began in Canada. Travelers whose flights “depart” from the European Union, Switzerland or Iceland but have been suspended due to the pandemic have “the right to receive a refund”, says a document recently published on the site Air Canada web.
“For customers with routes from the EU, Air Canada has … recently added a refund option for non-refundable tickets,” the company said in an email on Thursday.
However, the airline does not reimburse passengers traveling one-way or round-trip from Canada to Europe.
This change makes Air Canada the second largest Canadian carrier to offer refunds rather than credit to some passengers whose flights have been canceled due to the coronavirus crisis.
Earlier this month, WestJet Airlines Ltd. said a larger offer of reimbursement in a document sent to travel agents that applies to flights with an American or British city as destination or origin.
Policy changes follow months of backlash as consumer advocates and thousands of passengers continue to demand reimbursement for services paid for but never rendered.
European Commission regulations stipulate that passengers whose flights are canceled are entitled to a refund or re-routing under satisfactory conditions.
The rule refers to all “passengers departing from an airport located in the territory of a Member State” of the EU.
Critics say Air Canada’s new refund policy does not go far enough to meet all EU requirements as it does not cover return tickets originating in Canada – for example, from Toronto to Turin and back to Toronto.
Travelers departing from an EU airport who find their flight canceled are eligible for a refund regardless of where the route originated, said Jacob Charbonneau, CEO of the claims handling company based in Quebec Flight Claim.
“European regulations cover all flights departing from a European airport, including Switzerland, Norway and Sweden, regardless of the airline, and cover all European airlines for return,” said Charbonneau.
Air Canada stated that the policy takes into account the circumstances of the COVID-19 pandemic.
“This decision follows in-depth discussions among EU members on the appropriate solutions given this unprecedented global crisis and our own review of the applicable regulations in a changing regulatory environment,” said the airline.
The EU regulation in question stipulates that passengers should be offered reimbursement “for the total cost of the ticket … for the part or parts of the journey not carried out”. The cancellation of a flight from Montreal to Paris and vice versa should trigger a reimbursement offer covering at least half the trip, said Christian Nielsen, legal director of AirHelp, a Berlin-based passenger rights company.
“Air Canada is required to reimburse the cost of the trip from Paris to Montreal, whether it’s the return flight on the route … or the departure flight,” said Nielsen.
The airline’s online publication refers to flights “out of” EU airports, but its interpretation only recognizes the routes from there, said passenger rights lawyer Gabor Lukacs.
“Will Air Canada continue to ignore the regulations, or will Air Canada actually comply with them?” ” He asked.
A 2018 decision of the Court of Justice of the European Union indicates that the same regulation cited by Air Canada in its online publication – made on June 15 according to its metadata – “applies to passengers departing from an airport located in the territory of a Member State. ”
Instead of refunds, Air Canada has generally offered passengers the option of travel credit with no expiration date or converting their reservation to Aeroplan points with 65 percent more bonus miles.
Air Canada executive told the House of Commons health committee on Monday that the carrier returned approximately $ 1 billion to customers who purchased more expensive refundable tickets but still had some $ 2.6 billion dollars in presale in his coffers.
The Montreal-based company has laid off more than 20,000 employees since the start of the pandemic and continues to bleed around $ 20 million a day after the global travel industry collapsed.
Border closures and record demand mean airlines around the world will lose $ 84 billion this year and see their revenues drop 50% year-over-year, according to the International Air Transport Association.
This Canadian Press report was first published on June 25, 2020