Federal support for airlines conditional on reimbursement to customers – Canada News

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New federal support for Canada’s pandemic airline industry will depend on carriers reimbursing passengers whose flights have been canceled, the government said on Sunday.

Transport Minister Marc Garneau spelled out the demand by announcing that Ottawa is ready to respond to the sector’s desperate appeals for federal aid by launching talks later this week.

Canada’s commercial airlines have been hit hard by COVID-19, with passenger levels down 90% thanks to a combination of travel restrictions and fear of contracting the disease.

This has prompted airlines to lay off hundreds of pilots and technicians and shut down dozens of regional routes since March. They have also canceled many pre-booked trips, offering passengers credits or vouchers instead of refunds.

Many Canadians have since expressed their anger at not getting their money back. The Canadian Transportation Agency received 8,000 complaints between mid-March and the end of August, most of which are related to refunds.

Passengers also filed a handful of proposed class actions and three petitions garnering more than 100,000 signatures calling for reimbursement from customers.

Garneau acknowledged the challenges facing the sector by revealing the ongoing discussions.

“The airline industry cannot meet these challenges alone, given the unprecedented impacts on its operations,” Garneau said in a statement.

“We are ready to establish a process with the major airlines regarding financial assistance which could include loans and possibly other forms of support in order to achieve important results for Canadians,” he added. “We plan to start discussions with them this week.”

Yet Garneau also clarified what the government would demand from airlines, starting with reimbursement of what are believed to be millions of dollars in prepaid airline tickets and a reduction in canceled routes.

“Before we spend a dime of taxpayer dollars on the airlines, we’ll make sure Canadians get their money back,” he said. “We will ensure that Canadians and regional communities maintain their air links with the rest of Canada.

It was not immediately clear whether this would involve pushing Air Canada and others to resume dozens of routes that are currently suspended.

The harsh words around refunds were greeted with caution on Sunday as a good first step by Canadian Automobile Association vice-president Ian Jack, whose organization is one of the largest vacation and travel retailers. accreditation in Canada.

“It’s the starting gun, but it’s by no means a done deal,” Jack said. “We will be monitoring these negotiations closely. There is now a concrete and formal commitment from the government that we expect it to honor.

Unlike Canadian authorities, the European Commission and the US Department of Transportation have demanded airlines to reimburse passengers for canceled flights.

The United States and European countries, including France and Germany, have also offered billions of dollars in financial assistance to struggling carriers. Ottawa has not provided any bailouts to the airlines.

The pandemic has devastated the airline industry, with billions of dollars in losses for Canadian carriers amid stranded flights and narrow international borders.

Canadian airline revenues in 2020 will fall $ 14.6 billion or 43% from a year ago, according to May estimates from the International Air Transport Association.

Conservative transportation critic Stephanie Kusie slammed the government for not doing it sooner while noting that Garneau did not provide a timeline for when an aid package would be ready for the aviation industry .

“The Trudeau government has already made Canadians who depend on the aviation industry wait for months,” Kusie wrote on Twitter.

“The Conservatives will ensure that the Liberal government’s plan puts the interests of workers and passengers first and allows our aviation industry to recover.

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