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Frustration continues over lack of refunds for COVID-19 flight cancellations

Last Updated Jan 7, 2021 at 10:29 pm PDT

Summary

A Vancouver couple that planned a destination wedding is out thousands of dollars due to cancelled plans

Would-be travellers are frustrated by airlines issuing travel credits amid the ongoing pandemic

VANCOUVER (CityNews) — For months, a Vancouver couple has been trying desperately to get a refund for international flights they never took due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Ben Gregson and his fiancée Ana planned to get married in Mexico, booking two separate flights to Mexico City through Expedia in 2019.

First, the flight they booked in August was cancelled, and Mexico’s Interjet Airlines gave them a travel credit.

Their November flights with Aeromexico weren’t cancelled — but the couple decided to postpone their wedding by one year and stay in Vancouver.

“Because we weren’t going to have our wedding if we couldn’t have our guests there and couldn’t have a big gathering. So the wedding was out of the question,” Gregson says.

They were issued a credit for that flight as well. But as the pandemic persists and all non-essential international travel is discouraged —  they say the flight vouchers are essentially worthless.

“We’re not going to be able to use them, because they expire so soon. It’s not like a long expiry. It’s less than a year,” Gregson tells CityNews.

But their requests for a cash refund has been denied, as have similar requests from family and friends who planned to attend the destination wedding.

“We feel horrible about it. At first it seemed like a great idea. Whoever wants to come can come. Now they’re all out money. And even if we do reschedule, will they be interested in going through this all again?” Gregson asks, estimating guests spent roughly $10,000 on a trip they never took.

Dr. Amy Tan faces a similar dilemma. The palliative care physician spent nearly $7,000 on WestJet tickets for overseas work-related conferences that were cancelled by the pandemic.

Per their policy, WestJet gave her flight credits. But the medical doctor doesn’t know when she’ll ever use them given the health risks around travel.

“I’m concerned that they’re not giving people back money, and it’s basically a free loan. And I’m also concerned that they are trying to jeopardize peoples’ health by encouraging travel right now,” she says.

According to the consumer group Air Passenger Rights, at least one in 10 Canadians have been affected by cancelled flights amid COVID-19.

For anyone wanting a refund, the group suggests filing what’s known as a statutory chargeback. Under BC’s Business Practices and Consumer Protection Act, credit card issuers may reimburse would-be travellers for tickets.

“The statutory chargeback works in situations where clearly you are unable to get the services you paid for. But instead of you running after the money, you put the financial institution in a position to either write it off as a loss. Or they go after the airline,” explains President Gábor Lukács.

AeroMexico and Interjet did not immediately respond to CityNews’ requests for comment.

Gregson and Ana will now try getting a refund through the credit card company. If that fails, the family might just take a loss of thousands of dollars — for a wedding that never happened.

“I don’t know what else we can do. It’s already been so many months and we’ve tried many things. We’re kind of out of ideas.”

Last month, Minister of Transport  Marc Garneau called on the Canadian Transportation Agency to strengthen rules that require airlines to refund passengers for cancelled flights, saying the pandemic has highlighted a gap in Canada’s protections for airline passengers, which weren’t designed to cover such lengthy delays.

That announcement came as various consumer groups lobby the government to mandate that airlines issue cash refunds, rather than travel vouchers, for flights that were cancelled due to COVID-19.

The new rules would apply to future cancellations only and will not be retroactive, leaving passengers whose flights are cancelled prior to their introduction on their own.

Airlines maintain that they are not legally required to issue refunds and have criticized Ottawa for its delay in issuing more assistance to the struggling travel sector.

The federal government has said that it would not issue aid to the airline sector unless carriers offered passengers full refunds for cancelled flights.

With files from The Canadian Press