Air Canada records more refund complaints than any other foreign airline in the United States

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Air Canada has more customer complaints about refunds to the US Department of Transportation than any other non-US airline.

The department says Air Canada received 969 out of 7,568 reimbursement complaints in April, or 13%, or more than 80 carriers in the category.

The Montreal-based airline ranked third in claims for reimbursement from any carrier, after United Airlines and American Airlines.

Air Canada and other Canadian airlines have refused to reimburse most customers whose flights have been canceled due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

The United States, like the European Union, requires airlines to reimburse passengers. A complaint to the United States transportation department offers potential reimbursement for certain Air Canada customers who have been refused north of the border.

Despite the high number of complaints, Air Canada carries fewer passengers on flights with an American segment than British Air and Lufthansa as well as four American airlines, according to 2018 figures from the U.S. Office of Transportation Statistics.

WestJet Airlines Ltd. ranks just below Air Canada in terms of the number of cross-border passengers, but had the 10th highest number of refund complaints with 217, matching with Air France. WestJet has stated that customers of flights to the United States or the United Kingdom are entitled to refunds.

Air Canada did not immediately respond to questions on Monday.

“The Canadian Air Passenger Protection Regulations (APPR) and CTA only require airlines to ensure that passengers can travel,” the airline said in a June 23 filing with the US Department of Transportation. “In addition, CTA approved the use of travel credits or vouchers during the COVID-19 epidemic. ”

Air Canada returned approximately $ 1 billion to customers who purchased more expensive refundable tickets, but still has approximately $ 2.6 billion in advance ticket sales, Air Canada executive told committee House of Commons health care last week.

Instead of refunds, Air Canada and other carriers have generally offered travel credits to customers whose flights have been canceled due to the coronavirus crisis, which has significantly reduced their revenues due to the closure of many borders. and low demand for travel.

Air Canada, WestJet and Air Transat have declared that their position on refunds is in accordance with federal regulations and guidelines issued in the past three months by the Canadian Transportation Agency (CTA).

Contract law and legal precedents suggest that this is not the case, says passenger rights lawyer Gabor Lukacs.

“The law has been very clear in Canada for 16 years. It has been reaffirmed four times by legally binding decisions of the Canadian Transportation Agency, “said Mr. Lukacs.

“No one is suggesting that the airline should pay compensation in addition to reimbursement. We are just talking about giving back to the passengers the money they paid but without services, “he said.

“A refund is a universal principle across Canada … Our entire economy would collapse if a merchant were allowed not to refund. ”

CTA’s approval of airline travel credits – cited by Air Canada in response to the complaint – was conditional on transportation contracts and regulatory precedents, said CTA President Scott Streiner.

“It is not a binding order,” he told The Canadian Press last week. The regulator’s online publications offer “a general statement” or “advice” rather than strict guidelines, he said.

In its responses to the complaints, Air Canada also argued that the US Department of Transportation’s refund enforcement order contradicts jurisprudence and does not have “force of law”.

The position contrasts with that of WestJet, which changed its policy for refunding customers on flights between the United States and Canada that were canceled due to the pandemic after “carefully monitoring regulatory frameworks” in all jurisdictions . In 2018, the company carried 4.95 million passengers on cross-border routes.

Earlier this month, Air Canada quietly changed its refund policy earlier to allow some customers with canceled airline tickets to recover their money – but not passengers whose travel originates in Canada.

Travelers on flights from the European Union, Switzerland or Iceland are entitled to receive a refund, the airline said, but passengers who had to travel one-way or round-trip from Canada to Europe are not.

This Canadian Press report was first published on June 29, 2020

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