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Coronavirus: Questions around airline refund policies vex travellers, agents

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Travellers and travel agents alike are increasingly frustrated with refund policies and customer service at Canadian airlines amid the COVID-19 pandemic.

A petition calling on Ottawa to refuse bailouts to any airline that does not refund customers for cancelled flights now has roughly 3,000 signatures.

Toronto resident Bob Scott launched the petition last week.

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He notes that Canadian carriers are offering customers flights rebookings or travel vouchers — but not refunds — amounting to hundreds of millions of dollars in effective loans to airlines from passengers.

Barbara Broomel, a New York-based travel agent who works with Canadian clients, says Air Canada has been “very hard” to reach, leaving her “in agony” about whether a tour group should make their final $6,000 payment for a European trip that may yet be cancelled.

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Air Canada, which has cut flying by about 90 per cent for the next two months, did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

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Natalie Rahey and Blair Skrupski, a Halifax couple whose wedding in Mexico later this month is now on hold after Air Canada Vacations cancelled their flight, say they and their nearly three dozen guests are now out a total of more than $50,000.

Rahey says she is “incredibly disappointed” that their voucher requires them to rebook at the same resort for the same price or more within the next two years, even if cheaper options become available.

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While U.S. and European Union officials have ordered airlines to reimburse customers for cancelled flights, a statement on the Canadian Transportation Agency website says airlines are not obliged to refund passengers for flights suspended due to the novel coronavirus or other reasons outside a carrier’s control.

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