Loading articles...

Wait for airline refunds too long, says advocate calling on Ottawa to intervene

Last Updated Oct 23, 2020 at 5:02 pm PDT

FILE - Economy class seating in a new WestJet 787 Dreamliner airplane. (THE CANADIAN PRESS/Todd Korol)

Air Passenger Rights group argues Ottawa needs to intervene to get airlines to refund cancelled flights

Gabor Lukacs says customers shouldn't have to wait for months to get their money back

Lukacs argues there isn't evidence airlines can't afford to give customers full refunds

VANCOUVER (NEWS 1130) — As some airlines have agreed to refund money owed to passengers who had their flights cancelled during the pandemic, one advocate says it still isn’t enough and calls on Ottawa to step in.

As pressure mounts for the federal government to intervene, Gabor Lukacs, president of the Halifax-based Air Passenger Rights group, says Ottawa needs to force airlines to return the money paid for cancelled flights.

Lukacs says Air Canada, WestJet, and other airlines have only refunded a fraction of the money owed.

“The law is and has always been that passengers are owed a refund,” he tells NEWS 1130.

“If I decide to rob a bank and then, when the police come, I say, ‘Well, I really needed the money,’ will anybody consider that a valid excuse? Of course not.”

RELATED: WestJet to start offering refunds for flights cancelled due to COVID-19

Lukacs says the federal government needs to step up because it will still be another six months for customers to get a refund from WestJet and Air Canada.

“Air Canada has been and continues to refuse to comply with the law. It has been and continues to steal the public’s money in plain English,” he says.

The airline industry has taken a massive hit amid the COVID-19 pandemic, which grounded many flights due to lockdowns. Travel has been restricted in many countries around the world, including in Canada.

However, Lukacs argues there isn’t any evidence airlines can’t afford to give customers full refunds.

“When you look at the publicly-traded companies, they are very far from being insolvent,” he says, adding that customers also need the money.

RELATED: WestJet, Air Canada start Twitter tiff over who was first to offer ticket refunds

An emailed response from WestJet says it will take some time to clear its backlogs.

“We appreciate guests’ patience as our teams ramp up our capabilities to provide refunds at this scale,” the email reads. “We have heard loud and clear from the travelling public that in this COVID world they are looking for reassurance on two fronts: the safest possible travel environment; and refunds.”

As of Nov. 2, WestJet says it will proactively provide refunds to cancelled flights from WestJet and Swoop.

Air Passenger Rights wants a bill passed to recognize passengers’ rights to full refunds when a flight is cancelled. Lukacs says Bill C-249, a private member’s bill put forward by Bloc Quebecois MP Xavier Barsalou-Duval, with support from the group, has already passed the first of three readings needed for approval in Ottawa.

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said Friday the government is getting close to delivering on industry-specific funding that it first pledged back in March.

Federal Transportation Minister Marc Garneau has indicated he supports providing refunds for cancelled trips, but legal action has already been launched by customers refusing to accept travel vouchers.

-With files from Mike Eppel