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Federal Court says class action on COVID-19 airfare refunds a matter for other courts

Last Updated Nov 26, 2020 at 8:31 pm PDT

FILE - Economy class seating in the new WestJet 787 Dreamliner airplane is shown in Calgary on February 14, 2019. In the wake of an onboard incident where flight attendants and bystanders acted swiftly to deal with alleged sexual harassment, Canada's two biggest airlines say its crews are trained to handle passengers who pose a threat -- though one expert warns that airline policy and behaviour are two different matters. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Todd Korol

OTTAWA — The Federal Court has punted consideration of airfare refunds, which customers say they are owed following hundreds of thousands of cancelled flights, to provincial courts.

Justice Michael Manson says in a decision today that a proposed class-action lawsuit seeking certification is outside the Federal Court’s jurisdiction, even though air travel is a federal area of responsibility.

Plaintiff Janet Donaldson launched a proposed class action against Air Canada, Air Transat, WestJet Airlines and its Swoop subsidiary after the COVID-19 pandemic struck in March and triggered a global travel industry collapse.

The British Columbia resident says WestJet cancelled her flight but initially gave her no reimbursement options, offering travel vouchers instead.

Manson’s ruling strikes her claim on jurisdictional grounds, but avoids weighing in on the merits of the refund issue itself.

A handful of proposed class-action suits are ongoing in provincial courts, including in B.C. and Quebec, as frustrated customers seek refunds for trips they paid for but never took.