VANCOUVER (NEWS 1130) – Refunds for flights cancelled or postponed because of COVID-19 may be coming from Air Canada but an air passenger rights advocate says the airline isn’t doing this from the goodness of their heart.
Gábor Lukács says the airline would only be doing this to get federal funding.
“I would be happy if and when Air Canada and other airlines publicly apologized for having misappropriated passengers’ money and publicly recognize that that money has always belonged to passengers,” Lukács told NEWS 1130 Thursday.
Unifor, which represents workers at Air Canada, says the airline has agreed to repay customers, although the company has so far not confirmed the news.
“The company (Air Canada) has agreed to Ottawa’s crucial demand to repay the many customers who weren’t reimbursed for their plane tickets,” a Unifor representative told 680 NEWS.
When asked for comment, Air Canada referred back to a Feb. 12, 2021 statement that indicated discussions with the federal government are ongoing.
NEW – Unifor tells 680NEWS that Air Canada has agreed to refund passengers who had their flights cancelled or postponed during the pandemic. "The company has agreed to Ottawa's crucial demand" Unifor says. AC would not confirm the news, referring 680NEWS to an earlier statement. pic.twitter.com/JyyKWQbEt5
— Richard Southern (@richard680news) March 4, 2021
Lukács says the airline is just doing what it was legally supposed to do months ago.
“We are talking here about a fundamental obligation. The same way if you order something from Amazon, you go to a corner store and pay in advance, if for whatever reason — for no fault of their own — they are unable to deliver the goods or services you paid for, they have to refund you,” he explained.
WestJet announced last October it would be refunding passengers.
Lukács says the refund would only be a short victory for passengers.
“But a long-term defeat for the rule of law,” he explained. “The law has always been and remains that passengers are entitled to a refund for flights cancelled by the airline for any reason. Air Canada and other Canadian airlines have been disobeying the law and claiming that they can simply pocket passengers’ money. Let’s call it by it’s name: it’s a form of theft or embezzlement.”
In February, The Globe and Mail reported the Trudeau government and Canada’s major airlines were in late-stage negotiations that could end months of talks for a multi-billion dollar rescue plan.
The travel industry has been hard-hit by restrictions imposed during the COVID-19 pandemic.
The main frustration for many consumers has been the struggles they’ve faced trying to get refunds for unused tickets. There were suggestions that some airlines may have been balking in the hopes of a bailout.
A government source told The Globe and Mail any deal would be contingent on the airlines indeed sending cash to customers, and that none of the bailout money would go to executive bonuses.
Unifor represents airline workers at Air Canada as well as other airlines in the country. It has been pushing for an aid package for the Canadian airline sector.
In December, the federal government directed the Canadian Transportation Agency, which oversees issues related to passenger rights, to strengthen rules that require airlines to refund travellers for cancelled flights.
However, those rules would have only applied to future cancellations and would not be retroactive.
Consumer rights group Air Passenger Rights, which Lukács founded, has estimated that as of Sept. 30, around 3.9 million air passengers including those with Air Canada, have been denied a refund for flights they did not take.
-With files from The Canadian Press