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Cancelled flights require refunds, argues air passenger rights group

Last Updated Aug 25, 2020 at 9:53 am PDT

FILE - A plane is silhouetted as it takes off from Vancouver International Airport in Richmond, B.C., Monday, May 13, 2019. The federal Competition Tribunal has come down in favour of the Vancouver Airport Authority on a case revolving around airplane food. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jonathan Hayward

An air passenger rights advocacy group argues Air Canada's refusal for refunds is 'fraud'

President Gabor Lukacs says passengers have a right to refunds for cancelled flights during pandemic

Air Canada defends offering vouchers over refunds

VANCOUVER (NEWS 1130) — An advocate for airline passengers says customers who bought tickets for flights cancelled because of the COVID-19 pandemic are entitled to a refund.

As complaints mount against Air Canada for not fulfilling refunds, Gabor Lukacs, president of group Air Passenger Rights claims it’s illegal for the airline to withhold money paid for services that haven’t been delivered.

“Air Canada is engaging in systemic fraud because passengers have a fundamental right to a refund,” he says. “If your flight didn’t operate for any reason whatsoever, you are entitled to a refund.”

“It’s not a question of financial difficulty. Their books indicate they have plenty of money,” Lukacs tells NEWS 1130. “We are not talking about compensation for not being able to travel. Simply, you bought a car, they weren’t able to deliver the car, you get back your money.”

Lukas suggests the fastest way to get a refund in this situation is to contact credit card providers and have them reverse charges, pointing to a section of the province’s Business Practices and Consumer Protection Act.

Vouchers instead of refunds

Vancouver-based lawyer and media legal analyst Michael Shapray called out Air Canada for refusing to offer a refund for a cancelled flight. While he’s since been refunded the price of his ticket, the airline at first only offered Shapray a voucher for future travel.

Shapray argued Air Canada is “bullying consumers” by telling them they aren’t eligible for a refund because their tickets are non-refundable, even though the company hasn’t warned them of potential cancellations.

Air Canada told NEWS 1130 in an emailed response its stance on vouchers is in line with the position of the Canadian Transportation Agency, “which has confirmed providing vouchers is acceptable.”

“This position was recently upheld by the Federal Court of Canada,” the airline adds.

However, in a statement to NEWS 1130, the CTA refutes the airline’s claim, saying the agency “never stated that airlines had the right to issue travel credits instead of refunds.”

“The CTA issued the Statement in light of the risk that many passengers would receive nothing at all for the cost of cancelled flights, and the severe liquidity crisis experienced by airlines as flight and passenger volumes collapsed virtually overnight. To be clear, it did not relieve any airline otherwise obligated to pay refunds from doing so, as stated on our website,” an email from the CTA reads.

The agency adds passengers who think they are entitled to a refund but are denied one by an airline or are offered a voucher in its stead can file a complaint with the CTA.

“[The CTA] will determine if the airline complied with the terms of its tariff. Each case is decided on its merits. The voucher statement did not affect anyone’s rights,” the statement adds.

Meanwhile, reports out of the U.S. show refund-related complaints against Air Canada were second only to United Airlines in May.

The U.S. Department of Transportation says Air Canada was the target of 1,705 complaints out of 10,415 filed against non-U.S. airlines in the month, outpacing all 80-plus foreign carriers in the category.

Updated policy without refund

The airline tweeted out an update to its booking policy Monday afternoon.

Anyone who makes a new booking or already has one through to Sept. 30 is entitled to a “one-time change without fee.”

“Plus, if you booked directly with us you can cancel your flight and convert your ticket into an Air Canada Travel Voucher with no expiry, or to Aeroplan Miles with an additional 65 per cent bonus miles,” it says.

-With files from the Mike Lloyd, Hana Mae Nassar, and The Canadian Press

Editor’s note: This article has been updated to include comments from the Canadian Transportation Agency which refutes a statement from Air Canada that said the agency “confirmed providing vouchers is acceptable.”