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Airline passengers push for refunds after flights cancelled amid COVID-19
OTTAWA -- Calls are growing louder for the Federal Government to require airlines to offer full refunds to passengers for flights cancelled due to COVID-19.
For Amber Murray, a travel voucher for a cancelled dream trip to the Dominican Republic with her husband isn’t good enough.
“Unfortunately they don’t know if I’m going to be able to travel in the coming months let alone the next 24 months,” said Murray who has stage 3 breast cancer. She says WestJet refuses to provide a refund for a flight cancelled in April because of COVID-19.
“I provided them with medical documents and I got told ‘that’s ok, someone else can use it if you give it to someone else.’ That defeats the purpose of my trip.”
In a statement WestJet says “...airline tariffs do not always provide for cash refunds especially in cases beyond our control. WestJet believes refunding with travel credits is an appropriate and responsible approach in extraordinary circumstances such as the COVID-19 crisis.”
WestJet and Porter Airlines are offering travel vouchers that are valid for two years.
At Air Canada, those with refundable tickets are eligible for a full refund. Both refundable ticket holders and non-refundable ticket holders have two options: a travel voucher with no expiry date or they can convert their booking into Aeroplan Miles and receive additional 65 per cent bonus miles.
“To me they are worthless right now,” said Cathy Maltese of the travel voucher offered by Air Canada. “I don’t know what’s going to happen in the future. In the meantime, people are struggling with money, like why are they allowed to hold onto it, they’ve got billions.”
“The law has been and remains that airlines have to provide a refund to the original form of payment,” said Gabor Lukacs, the president of the Airline Passenger Rights group.
"They can ask you to take vouchers, they can perhaps entice you by offering a higher voucher amount than cash… what they cannot do is impose vouchers on you, there’s nothing in the law that allows them to do that.”
Lukacs suggests filing for a charge back with the credit card used to purchase flights but says a number of companies are refusing to return the funds.
He started a Change.org petition calling on the federal government to enforce a refund policy for cancelled flights during the pandemic. It has more than 55,000 signatures.
“I think the airlines have to work with us, their clients, as much as we need to work with them and holding our money is not a good business model for anybody,” said Rob Butler who was supposed to fly to Tokyo in early May. He is one of the more than 27,000 people to sign an online petition on the House of Commons website demanding the government step in.
Transport Minister Marc Garneau’s office said in a statement, “a balanced approach is needed in supporting Canadians and ensuring that they continue to have affordable and efficient air transportation options for years to come.”