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We’ve seen airlines play all kinds of games with refunding customers, given the cash bind they’re in but it’s a different level when the government justifies it.
In light of the current global situation, the Canadian Transportation Agency (CTA) just took it to that level and is giving airlines an “out.”
ITS OK FOR AIRLINES TO KEEP YOUR “LOAN”
This week, the Canadian Transportation Agency decided that airlines no longer have to provide passengers with cash refunds if flights are canceled.
Apparently, airline economic viability is more important than customers having money so the CTA has decided that it’s appropriate for airlines to instead provide vouchers for future travel in lieu of refunds, assuming they don’t “expire in an unreasonably short period of time.”
The COVID-19 pandemic has caused major disruptions in domestic and international air travel.
For flight disruptions that are outside an airline’s control, the Canada Transportation Act and Air Passenger Protection Regulations only require that the airline ensure passengers can complete their itineraries. Some airlines’ tariffs provide for refunds in certain cases, but may have clauses that airlines believe relieve them of such obligations in force majeure situations.
The legislation, regulations, and tariffs were developed in anticipation of relatively localized and short-term disruptions. None contemplated the sorts of worldwide mass flight cancellations that have taken place over recent weeks as a result of the pandemic. It’s important to consider how to strike a fair and sensible balance between passenger protection and airlines’ operational realities in these extraordinary and unprecedented circumstances.
On the one hand, passengers who have no prospect of completing their planned itineraries with an airline’s assistance should not simply be out-of-pocket for the cost of cancelled flights. On the other hand, airlines facing huge drops in passenger volumes and revenues should not be expected to take steps that could threaten their economic viability.
While any specific situation brought before the CTA will be examined on its merits, the CTA believes that, generally speaking, an appropriate approach in the current context could be for airlines to provide affected passengers with vouchers or credits for future travel, as long as these vouchers or credits do not expire in an unreasonably short period of time (24 months would be considered reasonable in most cases).
The CTA will continue to provide information, guidance, and services to passengers and airlines as we make our way through this challenging period.
That’s right, their definition of “expire in an unreasonably short period of time” is 24 months.
Note: Both Air Canada and WestJet policies are now exclusively allowing for future flight credits valid for 24 months when a flight is canceled.
CONSUMERS STUCK IN THE MIDDLE
As consumers, the law is only useful when it is upheld by the one that put it in place, the government. When the government abandons the law, we have chaos.
In the US we’ve seen airlines try to get away with not providing refunds for cancellations, and that violates DOT regulations. But this highlights a huge problem, either:
- You can file a complaint with the DOT, but that’s not going to get you a resolution any time soon or;
- Airlines may (potentially) be fined for violations, but that’s not something that really benefits consumers directly
Either way, the airline still has your money but this is where is gets extremely complicated. DOT regulations apply for flights to/from the USA, while CTA regulations similarly apply for flights to/from the Canada.
If you booked a flight from Canada to the US, which rule applies? Well, it probably doesn’t matter, because they can highlight this “rule” and you still don’t have your money.
Many airlines have been pulling at types of stunts to deny consumers their money. I feel bad for everyone that may find themselves in the middle of this drama.
I’ve heard numerous stories of individuals that purchased “refundable tickets” (which are considerably more expensive to buy than non-refundable tickets) and even they are unable to get their money back.
In the case of Canada, the CTA has now decided that airlines don’t actually need to refund passengers if they cancel flights, but rather only have to provide a future flight voucher.
2 bailouts…one by the taxpayers and another by stealing the money from the consumers…beautiful! <–that’s sarcasm!
It’ll be interesting to see if other governments follow similar policies.
What has been your experience trying to get a refund from Air Canada (or any airline) at this point?