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Coronavirus: B.C. woman files class action against Canadian airlines over cancelled flights

Proposed class action lawsuit against airlines
WATCH: Proposed class action lawsuit against airlines

A B.C. woman is taking several major airlines to court, claiming carriers have unfairly refused to refund customers for flights cancelled due to the novel coronavirus pandemic.

Mission resident Janet Donaldson has named Air Canada, WestJet, Sunwing, Air Transat and Swoop airlines in the proposed class action filed on March 27 in Federal Court.

READ MORE: As coronavirus travel restrictions ramp up, major airline hubs take a hit

She claims that instead of giving refunds when flights were scrapped, the companies offered two-year flight credits with a variety of restrictions.

“Passengers have a fundamental right to a refund of the monies paid if the air carrier is unable to transport them for any reason that is outside the passenger’s control,” the lawsuit says.

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READ MORE: Coronavirus: Air Canada starts cargo-only flights for sensitive shipments, medical supplies

“The carrier cannot keep the fare paid by the passengers and refuse to provide a refund on the basis that its inability to provide transportation was due to certain events.”

The proposed class would cover airline passengers anywhere in the world who booked with one of the five airlines before March 11, for travel after March 13 — whether the airline cancelled the flight or the passenger pulled out.

WestJet announces layoffs for nearly 50% of staff due to COVID-19
WestJet announces layoffs for nearly 50% of staff due to COVID-19

On March 11, the World Health Organization declared a global pandemic, and on March 13, the Canadian government issued an advisory against international travel and restricted entry to the country.

Last month, the Canadian Transportation Agency said airlines were not obliged to refund passengers for flights cancelled due to the novel coronavirus or other reasons outside an airline’s control.

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But the lawsuit claims the airlines implemented new policies, which were never part of the original contract with passengers, that forces them into travel they may no longer wish to take, sometimes at “a substantially different price.”

Advice for travellers during COVID-19 pandemic
Advice for travellers during COVID-19 pandemic

The plaintiff further alleges that because airlines have grounded their fleets and laid off thousands of workers, they are not currently incurring costs, while passengers are left to shoulder the risk of losing their flight credits should the companies go bankrupt before they can be used.

READ MORE: Coronavirus: WestJet extends international flight suspensions to May 4

The airlines should have had contingency plans for a major international disruption, or alternatively, had insurance to cover their exposure, the lawsuit claims.

Passenger rights advocate Gabor Lukacs welcomed the lawsuit.

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“The law is quite clear that as passengers whose flight is cancelled by the airline for any reason whatsoever are entitled to a full refund of their unused portion of their ticket to the original form of payment,” said Lukacs.

“Financial hardship isn’t a reason not to meet your financial obligations. I don’t think that anyone. In the current situation will be excuse of paying their rent, paying for the groceries, paying their bills because of the hardship.”

None of the claims has been proven in court and a statement of defence has not been filed.

Swoop Airlines declined to comment.

Global News has requested comment from the other airlines listed in the claim.