“It’s a terrible way to do business,” he said. “How can this even happen?” “ The 62-year-old from the port of Victoria, Ont., Refers to the fact that unlike other major Canadian airlines, Sunwing still does not offer refunds for flights it has canceled due to the pandemic . Some of those flights were canceled over a year ago, leaving many customers in the same frustrating situation as Waddingham.
He and his wife had planned a ‘once in a lifetime’ trip to the Margaritaville resort on Grand Cayman Island for March 2020, but the airline canceled the flight after Ottawa warned against non-essential international travel .
Sunwing, a Toronto-based low-cost carrier serving the Caribbean, Mexico and Central America, has offered travel credit vouchers to affected passengers. But Waddingham said he didn’t need a voucher; he needs the $ 3,600 he paid for the trip.
” I want a refund. I am unemployed. I could use the money, ”he said. “I am shocked that the Better Business Bureau and the federal government allow a tour operator to do this. ”
Other airlines issue refunds
Hundreds of Sunwing customers seeking a refund are part of a Facebook group called Sunwing Complaints. Many are angry that the airline still failed to reimburse customers for flights canceled due to the pandemic, despite accepting federal loans that were contingent on such repayments.
They point out that Air Canada and Air Transat began issuing refunds as soon as they received hundreds of millions of dollars from Ottawa in April. But Sunwing is sticking to its credit-only policy, despite agreeing to a $ 375 million financing deal from Ottawa in February.
Like several other large Canadian employers, such as GoodLife Fitness, Gateway Casinos, Air Canada and Air Transat, the company was able to secure a loan under a special pandemic-related program called the Big Employer of emergency funding (LEEFF).
Sunwing did not respond to CBC email and telephone requests for comment.
Jillian Wilson, 30, of Stratford, Ont., Is not impressed with the airline.
“To hear that they got a government fund or a bailout and still refuse to pay it back is very, very disappointing,” she said.
She and her partner were married by a justice of the peace in February 2020 and planned to celebrate with friends and family in a beach wedding ceremony in the Dominican Republic a month later. They estimate that their party of 40 guests is out of their pocket about $ 70,000 in total because their flights have been canceled.
« My husband likes to call it an interest free loan to Sunwing, ”she said.
Wilson is as baffled as many other customers as to why the airline failed to follow Air Canada and Air Transat to reimburse customers for flights canceled due to COVID-19.
Special loans for other airlines
There is, however, a difference between the federal assistance that Air Canada and Air Transat have received and what Sunwing has negotiated so far. The other airlines arranged additional government loans specifically to fund passenger reimbursements, in addition to their LEEFF loans.
However, the government claims it actually put conditions on Sunwing’s LEEFF loan: the airline had to agree to set aside the money it received from customers to purchase tickets to ensure they could. possibly be reimbursed. No timetable has been set for reimbursing clients.
A statement sent to CBC News by the office of Finance Minister Chrystia Freeland said: “As part of the LEEFF loan Sunwing received in February 2021, Sunwing has committed to reimburse its customers for cancellations related to a pandemic.
The email sent by press secretary Katherine Cuplinskas also states: “While an industry-wide reimbursement process is now in place, the federal government expects Sunwing to honor its commitment to reimburse. customers and that conversations continue with the airline to ensure this happens.
Asked why customers are taking so long to receive these refunds, especially since Sunwing has been ordered to put the money aside, Cuplinskas replied that it was a question for the airline.
The delay could be due in part to the fact that Sunwing and the government are currently negotiating a separate repayment loan, an indication of the government’s concern over Sunwing’s financial health and a belief that more help is needed.
Airlines are expected to start repaying loans once travel resumes, once the pandemic is under control.
Ian Jack, vice president of public affairs for the Canadian Automobile Association (CAA), which is also the largest provider of leisure travel in the country, said the situation with Sunwing was unfair to customers.
“You could say Sunwing had a double advantage here. They have the government loans and they have all the money from the customers, ”said Jack, who acts as a consumer advocate on transportation issues.
He also recognizes that Sunwing, like all airlines, is in dire straits.
“No one would want to try to run an airline these days,” he said. “And certainly over the past year, we must have sympathy for a carrier that has just been swept up and almost shut down. “
Even so, he said, Sunwing customers have had to wait too long for refunds.
“It’s really unreasonable how long it took. It has now been over a year since the skies were initially closed due to COVID. The government needs to go over this with Sunwing and say, ‘Look, run the money. “
Glenn Waddingham is worried if this will happen.
“I’m afraid Sunwing will go bankrupt and we are one of its debtors and we won’t get anything.”