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

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

Interior Health update. File photo.
86 new COVID-19 cases, two more deaths in Interior Health

The new deaths are from Heritage Square, a long-term care facility in Vernon

A power outage Thursday night left nearly 3,000 homes in Clinton and the 70 Mile areas in the dark. (Katie McCullough photo).
Updated: Clinton, 70 Mile left in the dark after vehicle crashes into transmission pole

BC Hydro still working to restore power to 330 homes in 70 Mile House

A woman wearing a protective face mask to curb the spread of COVID-19 walks past a mural in Victoria, B.C., on Monday, Dec. 7, 2020. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Marissa Tiel
115 new COVID-19 cases, no new deaths in Interior Health

There are now a total of 4,970 cases in the region

Community consultation is now open regarding disposal of the former Ashcroft Elementary property, which since 2015 has operated as the Ashcroft HUB. (Photo credit: Vicci Weller)
Feedback now sought regarding disposal of Ashcroft Elementary

Residents of the region can have their say about the future of the former AES property

Health Minister Adrian Dix and provincial health officer Dr. Bonnie Henry head for the press theatre at the B.C. legislature for an update on COVID-19, Jan. 7, 2021. (B.C. government)
B.C.’s COVID-19 spread steady with 509 new cases Friday

Hospitalized and critical care cases decline, nine deaths

Seasonal influenza vaccine is administered starting each fall in B.C. and around the world. (Langley Advance Times)
After 30,000 tests, influenza virually nowhere to be found in B.C.

COVID-19 precautions have eliminated seasonal infection

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau listens to a question during a news conference outside Rideau cottage in Ottawa, Friday, January 8, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Adrian Wyld
Trudeau says Canada’s COVID vaccine plan on track despite Pfizer cutting back deliveries

Canadian officials say country will still likely receive four million doses by the end of March

Jobs Minister Ravi Kahlon shared a handwritten note his son received on Jan. 13, 2021. (Ravi Kahlon/Twitter)
Proud dad moment: B.C. minister’s son, 10, receives handwritten note for act of kindness

North Delta MLA took to Twitter to share a letter his son received from a new kid at school

Lilly and Poppy, two cats owned by Kalmar Cat Hotel ownder Donna Goodenough, both have cerebellAr hypoplasia, a genetic neurological condition that affects their ability to control their muscles and bones. Photo by Alistair Taylor – Campbell River Mirror
VIDEO: Wobbly Cats a riot of flailing legs and paws but bundles of love and joy to their owner

Woman urges others to not fear adopting cats with disabilities

A COVID-19 outbreak at Vernon's Heritage Square long-term care home has claimed seven people. (Jennifer Smith - Morning Star)
Two more COVID-19 deaths at Vernon care home

Heritage Square has now lost seven people due to the outbreak

Chief public health officer Dr. Theresa Tam provides an update on the COVID-19 pandemic in Ottawa on Friday, Jan. 8, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Sean Kilpatrick
Canada’s top doctor says to avoid non-essential travel as B.C. explores legal options

Premier John Horgan says he is seeking legal advice on whether it can limit interprovincial travel

Martin Luther King Jr. addresses the crowd during the march on Washington, D.C., in August of 1963. Courtesy photo
Government reinforces importance of anti-racism act on Black Shirt Day

B.C. Ministers say education “a powerful tool” in the fight for equity and equality

Black Press media file
Port McNeill driver tells police he thought the pandemic meant no breathalyzers

Suspect facing criminal charges after breathalyzer readings in excess of 3.5 times the legal limit

Most Read