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Calgary newlyweds question airline’s cancellation and compensation policy

Calgary newlyweds upset over airline’s policies and procedures during COVID-19 pandemic
WATCH: A Calgary couple is talking about a recent experience and their concerns with WestJet Vacations’ policies and procedures amid the COVID-19 pandemic. Tomasia DaSilva reports.

A Calgary couple is questioning why they haven’t received a cancellation confirmation or any compensation for their cancelled trip.

Back in February, Kaytlynn Soroka booked a trip to Cancun, Mexico for travel in May. Soroka and her husband Kenny got married in April — amid the pandemic — and soon realized that trip was not going to happen.

READ MORE: WestJet announces layoffs for nearly 50% of staff due to COVID-19, Air Canada reduces pilots

They logged on to WestJet Vacations to check the status of the flight.

“We went on and we can’t find our reservation anywhere,” she said.

“We don’t know what’s happening. We have no refund, no voucher and now our booking has disappeared.”

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Calgary newlyweds question airline cancellation policy
Calgary newlyweds question airline cancellation policy. Courtesy: Kaytlynn Soroka

Soroka said they also hadn’t received a confirmation of the cancellation, leading to more concerns.

“It’s scary to think, ‘OK, is it just gone now?'”

WATCH: How big financial institutions are responding to airline passengers seeking COVID-19 refunds

The couple eventually got a hold of an airline agent, who they said pulled up the booking and offered a voucher — not a refund.

“I just don’t think it’s right to use people as interest-free lenders for a company,” Soroka told Global News.

“I really feel for them that they’re doing layoffs and I know the airline industry isn’t doing well, but that’s not the point.”

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READ MORE: Coronavirus: Airlines obliged to offer credit, not refunds, watchdog says

However, Canadian airlines do not have to offer refunds; just credit.

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Late last month, the Canadian Transportation Agency website explained that airlines are not obliged to refund passengers for flights cancelled due to the novel coronavirus or other reasons outside an airline’s control.

Current rules “only require that the airline ensure passengers can complete their itineraries,” the post from Wednesday states. “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.”

Canadian air travellers angry at federal government for not ordering refunds
Canadian air travellers angry at federal government for not ordering refunds

The voucher or credit issue is something the Air Passenger Rights group has been fighting in court.

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“The airlines are … basically trying to force the public to provide them with an interest-free loan,” group founder Gabor Lukacs said. “That is wrong — not only morally or legally — but it is also wrong economically.”

Lukacs said airline passengers who bought tickets did not invest in airline companies, therefore they did not agree to take on any risks. He is calling on airlines to do what many American carriers are doing and issue refunds.

“There is not a single, legally binding document that would say that the airlines could refuse refunds and just offer vouchers,” Lukacs added. “That is absurd.”

READ MORE: Canadian Transportation Agency clarifies statement on travel vouchers during COVID-19 pandemic

WestJet told Global News agents are working through a queue to inform guests of their options following any flight schedule change. The airline also apologized for any confusion caused by the couple not receiving the automatic cancellation notification.

The Calgary-based company also said when a reservation is cancelled, e-documents are no longer accessible, but confirmation details are provided at the time of booking and agents can retrieve all necessary details.

As for the issue of vouchers, the airline said: “WestJet believes refunding with travel credits is an appropriate and responsible approach in extraordinary circumstances such as the COVID-19 crisis.”

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It went on to add it has consistently provided guests with options, including re-booking flights with no fees and extending vouchers so they can be used up to 24 months later.

Airline credits versus full refunds
Airline credits versus full refunds

Lukacs suggested that affected travelers who are looking for refunds call their credit card company and tell them they paid for a service they did not receive and they have not agreed to take a voucher.

“It is the law,” he said. “We’re not just talking about some sort of demand.”

Calgary newlyweds question airline voucher policy
Calgary newlyweds question airline voucher policy. Courtesy: Kaytlynn Soroka

Soroka is hoping her credit card company can now help her dispute the charge so the couple can get a refund.

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“We have bills and we just bought a house and then obviously all this happened,” she said.

“My husband has had a pay cut and he works in oil and gas — so we may need that money for a mortgage payment.”