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Doing the right thing shouldn't cost you: Advocate says COVID-19-related flight refunds should be guaranteed

Last Updated Mar 13, 2020 at 6:25 am PDT

FILE -- A plane is silhouetted as it takes off from Vancouver International Airport in Richmond, B.C., on May 13, 2019. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jonathan Hayward

Major airlines have announced changes to cancellation policies due to COVID-19, but an advocate says they are not enough

There are ways to make the case for a refund if you are unable to reach the airline or if a part of your trip is changed

VANCOUVER (NEWS 1130) — The province’s top doctor is urging cancellation of all non-essential travel on the eve of spring break, forcing many in B.C. to contemplate a potentially costly move.

An air passenger rights advocate says even revised cancellation policies aren’t doing enough, and the government should step in.

“We are somewhat at the mercy of the airlines, especially because the air passenger protection regulations are not doing enough to protect passengers in such situations,” says Gábor Lukács, founder of Air Passenger Rights, adding the Federal Minister of Transportation has the power to introduce legislation compelling refunds due to COVID-19-related cancellations.

“Passengers should not have to choose between their money and their health, or the health of people in their community,” Lukács continues.

He says a no-cost cancellation option is in the interest of public health.

“It would be vital for passengers to have no incentive to travel against the recommendations of the health authorities just because they don’t want to lose their money,” he says.

In the absence of government action, Lukács says there are steps passengers can take to secure a refund.

An airline ticket is essentially a contract between the company and the passenger, that contract becomes void under certain conditions.

Lukács encourages passengers trying to change or cancel flights to document their efforts to get through to the airline.

“Most airlines are not reachable at this time, they are overwhelmed,” he explains. “If you cannot reach them and have no way of changing your ticket, that can give you a basis for cancelling the contract,” adding it is legal and a good idea to record communication with the company.

He also says passengers can argue that the contract has been “frustrated” due to the coronavirus.

“This means, for reasons outside of the parties intentions it is not possible to perform the contract,” he says, adding this should void the contract.

If the airline makes a major adjustment to any part of your trip, they’ve breached their contract which gives grounds for a full refund.

Overall, Lukács is optimistic that customers will be accommodated.

“Given the frequency of these issues, I would anticipate that airlines will not be too combative because they understand that it would look very bad if they were refusing to give back the money of people who chose to do the right thing and not travel.”