People line up and check in for an international flight at Pearson International Airport during the COVID-19 pandemic in Toronto, Wednesday, Oct. 14, 2020. The head of a consumer interest group is calling on airlines to refund passengers’ cancelled fares, ahead of a hearing today in Parliament on the impact of COVID-19 on air travel. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Nathan Denette

People line up and check in for an international flight at Pearson International Airport during the COVID-19 pandemic in Toronto, Wednesday, Oct. 14, 2020. The head of a consumer interest group is calling on airlines to refund passengers’ cancelled fares, ahead of a hearing today in Parliament on the impact of COVID-19 on air travel. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Nathan Denette

Consumer rights advocates call for airline refunds in Parliament hearing

The hearing comes as airlines await an aid package from the federal government

Representatives from consumer advocacy groups blasted the federal government on Tuesday, accusing it of putting the interests of airlines above those of consumers by allowing carriers to issue vouchers for cancelled flights rather than full refunds.

The comments were made by witnesses at a meeting of Parliament’s standing committee on transport, infrastructure and communities, which focused on the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on the airline industry.

“Passengers still have a fundamental right to a refund, regardless of the reason for the cancellation,” Gabor Lukacs, the founder of consumer group Air Passenger Rights, told the committee.

The hearing comes as airlines await an aid package from the federal government. Ottawa has said it would not issue any financial support unless airlines refunded passengers for their fares, prompting criticism from the industry, which says the federal government is unnecessarily delaying aid to the embattled sector.

On Tuesday, Air Canada announced that it was cutting some routes in Atlantic Canada until further notice due to challenging market conditions. Those cuts follow others in the region in June, as well as similar service reductions by WestJet, which said in October that it would suspend 80 per cent of its Atlantic Canada capacity.

Ian Jack, vice president of public affairs for the Canadian Automobile Association, said during the committee meeting that the route cuts in Atlantic Canada might be part of a negotiation strategy by the airlines to pressure Ottawa to make concessions to the industry.

At the meeting, Lukacs argued that Canadian law requires that passengers be reimbursed for their cancelled fares, focusing on a statement by the Canadian Transportation Agency earlier this year that he claimed provided misleading information about what travellers’ rights were with respect to refunds.

The agency advised consumers in March that for flight disruptions beyond an airline’s control, Canada’s law only requires that the airline “ensure passengers can complete their itineraries.”

But Lukacs said that when an airline doesn’t provide a service that passengers paid for, for whatever reason, passengers are entitled to a refund under the law.

Sylvie De Bellefeuille, a lawyer with Option consommateurs, a consumer group based in Montreal, told the committee that the organization has received a record number of calls from consumers asking for information about how to obtain a refund for their airline tickets.

She added that issuing vouchers rather than full refunds was an unfair and unacceptable solution.

“This pandemic has also hit industries other than the airline industry, and hard,” De Bellefeuille said. “It is not up to consumers to finance airlines.”

John Lawford, the executive director and general counsel of the Public Interest Advocacy Centre, said prior to the committee meeting that forcing airlines to issue the refunds is the least the government could do for people who have fallen on hard times due to COVID-19.

READ MORE: Feds pledge customer refunds before ‘we spend one penny’ on aid package for airlines

He criticized the federal government for dealing with Canada’s airlines, that are fighting in court to quash rules that bolster compensation for passengers who experience delayed flights or damaged baggage.

He urged the federal government to make dropping the lawsuit a condition of any aid package it issues to the airline sector.

Lawford also called for the federal government to mandate a “refund fund” into which airlines would have to put a small portion of revenue in case of an unforeseen event, like a pandemic.

Jon Victor, The Canadian Press


Like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter.

Want to support local journalism during the pandemic? Make a donation here.

Air TravelAirlinesCoronavirus

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

Muddy Valley Farm in rural Saanich is calling for witnesses after its large metal gate was stolen overnight on Monday, Jan. 18. (Muddy Valley Farm/Facebook)
Rural Saanich farm reports large metal gate stolen

Muddy Valley Farm gate stolen overnight by ‘at least two people’

A pinniped was attacked by an unseen predator off the shores of Dallas Road Monday night. (Courtesy of Steffani Cameron)
VIDEO: Seal hunting, not being hunted in video shot off Dallas Road

Victoria woman captures footage of pinniped activity off Dallas Road

A water taxi at Victoria’s Fisherman’s Wharf. (Black Press Media file photo)
Victoria man arrested after stealing water taxi, racing it up Gorge Waterway

Man is facing recommended charges of theft over $5,000

A Seed and Stone rendering for White Rock, B.C. (Seed and Stone rendering)
Songhees Nation to open two Victoria cannabis stores spring 2021

Seed and Stone stores will open on Gordon Street and in the Bay Centre

Syringe is prepared with one of B.C.’s first vials of Pfizer vaccine to prevent COVID-19, Victoria, Dec. 22, 2020. (B.C. government)
B.C.’s COVID-19 caseload stays steady with 465 more Tuesday

No new outbreaks in health care facilities, 12 more deaths

Stand up paddleboarder Christie Jamieson is humbled to her knees as a pod of transient orcas put on a dramatic show on Jan. 19 in the Ucluelet Harbour. (Nora O’Malley photo)
Ucluelet paddle boarder surrounded by pod of orcas

“My whole body is still shaking. I don’t even know what to do with this energy.”

Chilliwack ER doctor Marc Greidanus is featured in a video, published Jan. 18, 2021, where he demonstrates and describes effectiveness of various styles of masks. (Youtube)
VIDEO: Emergency room doctor runs through pros and cons of various masks

‘We’ve been asked to wear a mask and it’s not that hard,’ Greidanus says.

New Westminster TV production designer, Rick Whitfield, has designed an office in a box for British Columbians in need of a private workspace. (BC Box Office photo)
PHOTOS: B.C. man designs ‘box office’ solution for those working from home

‘A professionally designed workspace on your property, away from the distractions of home’

(Pixabay photo)
VIDEO: Tip to Metro Vancouver transit police helps woman 4,000 km away in Ohio

Sgt. Clint Hampton says transit police were alerted to a YouTube video of the woman in mental distress

A woman types on her laptop in Miami in a Monday, Dec. 12, 2016, photo illustration. THE CANADIAN PRESS/AP/Wilfredo Lee
British Columbia government lax on cybersecurity practices, auditor reports

The audit did not highlight a specific threat, but it found breaches in cybersecurity are increasing globally

Cranbrook Food Bank coordinator Deanna Kemperman, Potluck Cafe Society executive director Naved Noorani and Sunshine Coast Community Services Society executive director Catherine Leach join B.C.’s new Municipal Affairs Minister Josie Osborne on a video call about B.C. gaming grants, Jan. 19, 2021. (B.C. government)
B.C. gaming grants reorganized for COVID-19 priorities

Minister highlights community kitchens, food banks

(Pixabay photo)
‘Cocaine bananas’ arrive at Kelowna grocery stores after mix up from Colombia: RCMP

Kelowna RCMP recently concluded an international drug investigation after finding cocaine in local grocers’ banana shipments in 2019

A new video from NCCIH and BC Northern Health titled ‘Healing in Pandemic Times: Indigenous Peoples, Stigma and COVID-19’ was animated by Joanne Gervais. (Photo Provided By: NCCIH Archives)
VIDEO: Stigma against Indigenous people is a ‘social sickness’

A new short animated video is aiming to educate the public on the stigmatization

Most Read