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.
Provincial health officer now advising against all non-essential travel outside of #Canada. Dr. Bonnie Henry says we have to do what we can to slow spread of this virus.
— Marcella Bernardo (@Bernardo1130) March 12, 2020
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.
Given the high volume of calls related to COVID-19, we kindly ask customers to contact their original booking source for inquiries. If you booked directly with us, we look forward to serving you as soon as we are able. Thank you for your understanding. https://t.co/idtbwgh0wX
— Air Canada (@AirCanada) March 12, 2020
Due to Coronavirus (COVID-19), we’re experiencing high volume for our phone, email and social media support. If your flight is not within the next 72 hours, please avoid contacting us so we can help guests with imminent travel plans. Thank you in advance for your understanding. pic.twitter.com/lmQcDiguxL
— WestJet (@WestJet) March 13, 2020
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.”