Air Canada said it has refunded nearly $1 billion to customers since Jan. 1, 2020 (The Canadian Press)

Air Canada revises refund policy amid growing anger over cancelled flights

Air Canada said it has refunded nearly $1 billion to customers since Jan. 1

Air Canada is revising its cancellation policy amid mounting customer frustration, offering travellers the option of a voucher with no expiration date or Aeroplan points if the airline cancels their flight due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

The airline says the new policy — the previous one capped travel vouchers at 24 months, with no Aeroplan option — applies to non-refundable tickets issued up to the end of June, with an original travel date between March 1 and June 30.

Air Canada’s fresh tack comes as consumer advocates and thousands of passengers continue to demand their money back for services they paid for but have not received.

Three petitions with more than 89,000 signatures are calling for full refunds to be implemented before financial aid is handed out to airlines, two of which were presented to the House of Commons over the past 11 days.

Cathy Maltese, who was booked on an Air Canada flight from Toronto to Orlando, Fla., over the March break with her three children, said she is “extremely disappointed” with how the airline has treated customers.

“At least now my family has the option of travelling when it is safe again and don’t have to worry about the time running out for us,” Maltese said in an email.

“To garner trust and respect again, they also have to give customers the option of a refund. There are many families struggling right now to put food on the table,” she said. “Why should they lose that money?”

Air Canada said it has refunded nearly $1 billion to customers since Jan. 1, largely to travellers who paid for refundable tickets.

“While the world is making great progress against COVID-19, we know we must remain vigilant, which includes being flexible,” chief commercial officer Lucie Guillemette said in a release Friday.

The loyalty points option allows customers to convert their booking into Aeroplan miles “and get an additional 65 per cent bonus miles,” she said.

Toronto resident Bob Scott, who launched a petition presented to Parliament last week by Liberal MP Yasmin Ratansi, said passengers are “becoming increasingly angry at what they see as the government’s complicity in the daylight robbery being committed by the airlines.”

Canada is out of step with the United States and the European Union, he noted, where officials have ordered airlines to reimburse customers for cancelled flights. The Canadian Transportation Agency chalks up the difference to U.S. and EU legislation establishing a “minimum obligation” to refund that Canada lacks.

None of Canada’s major airlines touts policies offering to return cash to passengers for the hundreds of thousands of flight cancellations since mid-March, opting instead for vouchers — typically with a timeline of two years.

Pressed on the issue Thursday at his daily media conference, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said the government needs to have “some very careful discussions with airlines” as well as Canadians to maintain a balance where travellers are “treated fairly” and the sector stays intact.

Passenger rights advocate Gabor Lukacs said the law requires airlines to refund customers, adding that fares may well go up in the coming year, reducing the value of travel credits.

“Air Canada continues to skirt its obligations to refund the approximately $2.6 billion dollars it owes to passengers,” Lukacs said in an email.

Airlines have been sending repatriation flights and offering customers vouchers, but typically they advertise no refund policies for cancelled routes.

WestJet’s website highlights future travel credit for cancelled flights, but says: “We are not processing refunds to original form of payment at this time.”

The disclaimer comes despite the company’s tariff — the contract between airline and passenger — which states that “the unused portion of the passenger’s ticket(s) will be refunded” in the same form as it was purchased, “should the alternate transportation proposed by the carrier not meet the passenger’s satisfaction.”

On Friday, Air Canada also said it will bolster its summer schedule, which nonetheless remains more than 50 per cent smaller than last year as the COVID-19 pandemic continues to pound the airline industry.

The 97 destinations compare with 220 last summer but mark an improvement from the past six weeks, when 95 per cent of its flights were still suspended.

Christopher Reynolds, The Canadian Press

Like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter.

Want to support local journalism during the pandemic? Make a donation here.

Air CanadaCoronavirus

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

VIDEO: Robert Bateman celebrates 90th birthday

Trudeau, Margaret Atwood and more appear in ‘happy birthday’ video

Royal B.C. Museum reopens in phases, some galleries remain closed to start summer

Victoria museum and archives open first galleries June 19

Saanich farm stands can stay open

Council amending bylaw to allow for temporary use permits

Study looks at feasibility of Vancouver Island abattoir

South Island Prosperity Partnership funds study looking at local meat processing

Greater Victoria’s first BC Cannabis Store could open at Saanich shopping centre

Store application for Uptown Shopping Centre headed for public hearing

B.C. records no new COVID-19 deaths for the first time in weeks

Good news comes despite 11 new test-positive cases in B.C. in the past 24 hours

Tahsis opens its gates to visitors to save local economy

Seasonal local businesses that rely on tourism hope to survive despite drop in tourist numbers

BC Corrections to expand list of eligible offenders for early release during pandemic

Non-violent offenders are being considered for early release through risk assessment process

Facing changes together: Your community, your journalists

The COVID-19 pandemic has changed the world in ways that would have… Continue reading

Fraser Valley driver featured on ‘Highway Thru Hell’ TV show dies

Monkhouse died Sunday night of a heartattack, Jamie Davis towing confirmed

Island city cancels plan for homeless camp; exploring alternative option

The plan heard strong objection from neighbouring residents and businesses

B.C. visitor centres get help with COVID-19 prevention measures

Destination B.C. gearing up for local, in-province tourism

36 soldiers test positive for COVID-19 after working in Ontario, Quebec care homes

Nearly 1,700 military members are working in long-term care homes overwhelmed by COVID-19

Most Read