UPDATE: A day after our broadcast, the Smiths received a phone call from TD and were informed the entire cost of their trip, $16,717, would be refunded.
“It wouldn’t have happened without Global and Consumer Matters. We tried for many, many months to get a refund through Sunwing and through our travel insurance company to absolutely no success and with Global becoming involved it’s been resolved in a matter of days,” Tony Smith said.
“So we are very grateful to Global and Anne Drewa, in particular, has played in this to get us our money back.”
There are many Canadians who have been given vouchers instead of refunds by Canada’s commercial airlines during the COVID-19 pandemic. Some passengers have even filed class-action lawsuits in an attempt to get their money back. This week Ottawa is sitting down with airline executives over a possible government COVID-19 aid package. Meantime, federal Transport Minister Marc Garneau has said federal aid to airlines will hinge on refunding passengers for cancelled flights.
Tony and Donna Smith say it was supposed to be a vacation of a lifetime.
In January, the Langley, B.C. couple booked a family trip to Cuba to celebrate their 50th wedding anniversary with their closest family members.
“It backfired,” Donna said.
The group of 11 was scheduled to depart from Vancouver to Cuba in March, but Sunwing cancelled the trip due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
“They cancelled the trip on the 17th of March and we were to leave on the 18th,” Donna said.
At first, the couple says Sunwing offered them a refund.
The Smiths had cancellation insurance but said their claim was denied on the basis they had been offered vouchers by the airline. They also pursued a refund through a chargeback from their credit card company but say the timeframe to seek a refund had passed. They were out $16,717.
Making matters worse, the Smiths’ son-in-law has since suffered a cardiac arrest and multiple organ failure due to flesh-eating disease and remains in hospital. The Smiths say a refund is needed to help their daughter and her children during this difficult time.
“Hopefully he’s going to recover, but he sure has a struggle ahead,” Tony said.
Consumer Matters reached out to Sunwing on behalf of the Smiths and received the following statement:
“After reviewing their circumstances, we agreed to offer them a name change or the option of transferring the credit to another customer with a two-year validity period, in recognition that health matters would prevent them from travelling for the foreseeable future.”
Gabor Lukacs, founder of the non-profit consumer advocacy group Air Passenger Rights, says Sunwing is breaking B.C. consumer protection law.
“The law has been and remains that when a supplier, a vendor, fails to deliver the services they have been contracted for and they have to issue a full refund to the original form of payment,” he said. “They may not like it, but this is the law.”
Consumer Matters also reached out to the Smiths’ credit card issuer, TD Bank, and received the following statement:
“We have reviewed the details of their unique situation and agree with their position that the airline should compensate them for their loss. We will support their dispute and submission of a chargeback request with Sunwing.”
TD says it is committed to working directly with the Smiths to help them resolve their matter as quickly as possible.