Flight canceled in Canada: can I get a refund?

Flight canceled in Canada: can I get a refund?
Flight canceled in Canada: can I get a refund?

In the early months of COVID-19, grounded planes and reduced schedules prompted most carriers to provide travel credit to passengers. The airlines said they were not obligated to refund their customers, citing a Canadian Transportation Agency statement from March 2020.

Today, even after regulatory changes that require refunds for flights canceled for reasons beyond the airlines’ control — whether it’s a pandemic or a snowstorm — some Canadians are still struggling to the rejection of reimbursement requests.

A recent ruling by the regulator found that a couple was not entitled to a refund because they chose to cancel their booking in 2020 – for a flight the airline had already canceled.

In a confidential decision obtained by the Canadian Press, a complaints resolution officer for the organization explained that the two passengers were only entitled to a voucher because they had canceled their reservation with WestJet.

“Although WestJet has announced the suspension of an itinerary, this does not change the conditions of the ticket when the passenger is the first to initiate the cancellation,” the agent wrote on December 28.

However, these conditions – set out in the company’s policies and posted on its website – stipulate that in the event of a flight disruption beyond the carrier’s control, the customer “will be reimbursed” with one payment if he refuses another travel route.

Additionally, then-WestJet CEO Ed Sims announced a day before the couple canceled their planned trip at the end of March that the airline would cancel all flights for at least 30 days starting March 22 2020, for reasons related to COVID-19.

The couple, who asked to remain anonymous for legal reasons — any decision by the agency’s complaints officers is confidential unless both parties agree to its publication — described the situation as a “nightmare.” .

“How can you cancel a flight that has been canceled?” one of them asked.

According to them, they still have to pay around $4,000. “For us, it’s not nothing.”

WestJet did not respond to questions regarding this matter.

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The slowness of the complaints procedure has compounded the frustrations of some travelers.

The couple filed their complaint with the regulator in March 2022 and mentioned receiving the decision in January this year, a 22-month wait.

At the end of April, the number of complaints pending with the transport agency stood at around 71,000, the highest figure ever.

It was common to withhold refunds during the first year of the pandemic or longer, leading to backlash from customers. It’s difficult to determine how many battles are still being fought over the issue because the regulator’s decisions on complaints are not public, advocates say.

“It has the effect of chilling people who are afraid to speak openly,” said Gabor Lukacs, president of the Air Passenger Rights association.

He also accused the agency and the airline of ignoring the facts surrounding the couple’s case.

At the time, refund obligations depended on the conditions attached to the ticket, as airlines were not required to refund in the event of force majeure until the passenger bill of rights was updated in 2022, a said Jadrino Huot, spokesperson for the Transportation Office.

At the start of the pandemic, the regulations “only require that the airline ensure that passengers can complete their itinerary,” states an agency post dated March 25, 2020. “Some airlines’ fares provide refunds in certain cases, but may contain clauses which, in the opinion of the airlines, relieve them of these obligations in situations of force majeure.

Several older decisions from the federal agency itself appear to run counter to this ticket, with at least three rulings issued since 2013 affirming air travelers’ right to a refund regardless of fare conditions or whether the cancellation of a flight is beyond the control of the airline.

A 2013 decision regarding Porter Airlines concluded that “it is unreasonable for Porter to refuse to refund the fare paid by a passenger due to the cancellation of a flight, even if the cause is an event beyond the control of To carry”. This decision was made despite the fact that Porter’s fare — the contract between the airline and passengers — stipulated a no-refund policy in the event of delays or cancellations due to force majeure.

“Failure to comply with these decisions would amount to contempt of court,” said Mr. Lukacs. In any event, WestJet’s tariff contains no such provision.

The Public Interest Advocacy Center said in April 2020 that it had received “numerous consumer complaints about future canceled flights and the lack of refunds for those flights.”

Keeping millions of dollars in tariffs amounts to foreclosure, according to John Lawford, who heads the consumer rights organization.

“When airlines take large sums of money from consumers for future flights and they do not put those funds in trust, but instead use them as operating funds, they have effectively taken consumers’ money for nothing,” he wrote in 2020.

The vouchers do not equate to a refund, he added. Mr. Lawford noted that older Canadians are not likely to use store credit “for health or financial reasons, or simply because of the uncertainty of air travel in the future.”

After holding out for more than a year, most airlines began offering refunds for flights canceled due to the pandemic as a condition of receiving federal aid.

“As the situation evolved, we opened refunds to travelers who had received a credit due to COVID, whether the reservation was canceled by us or by the passenger,” said Andréan Gagné, spokesperson for Transat AT Inc.

WestJet, which has never used federal aid, was the first carrier to offer refunds to some passengers in October 2020. But it said those refunds would not apply to customers who canceled their own travel or who have purchased non-refundable basic fares, “in accordance with its regulatory fare and the booking conditions which were in force before the entry into force of the COVID Law” – and despite the court’s case law.

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