Alberta premier supports federal assistance for Canadian airlines

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(Nov. 2, 2020): Minister of Transport Marc Garneau said the federal government is working on a package to help support airlines through the COVID-19 pandemic, helping them be "reliable, affordable and safe." – Nov 2, 2020

Alberta Premier Jason Kenney supports the federal government’s announcement Sunday that it would provide financial aid for the Canadian airline industry if carriers refund passengers whose flights were cancelled.

Airlines have been battered by the COVID-19 pandemic, with passenger levels down as much as 90 per cent due to travel restrictions and fear of contracting the illness.

“Here in Alberta, the impacts have been felt disproportionately given that we are home to WestJet’s head office, one of our most important employers,” Kenney said in a statement Sunday.

“Alberta is also home to two of Canada’s busiest airports and we are keenly aware of the economic impact that airlines have, employing thousands of Albertans directly, and contributing to our tourism industry, the fourth largest employment sector in the province, creating jobs for 127,000 Albertans.”

READ MORE: Ottawa won’t support Canadian airlines unless they issue refunds to passengers

Airlines have cancelled numerous pre-booked trips, offering passengers credits or vouchers instead of refunds since March.

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Many Canadians have since expressed anger over not getting their money back. The Canadian Transportation Agency received 8,000 complaints between mid-March and the end of August, most of which are believed to be related to refunds.

READ MORE: Court denies request to dismiss case involving flight refunds, Canadian Transportation Agency

Passengers have also filed a handful of proposed class-action lawsuits and three petitions garnering more than 100,000 signatures that call for customer reimbursement.

“The air sector cannot respond to these challenges on its own, given the unprecedented impacts on its operations,” Garneau said in a statement.

“We are ready to establish a process with major airlines regarding financial assistance which could include loans and potentially other support to secure important results for Canadians,” he added. “We anticipate beginning discussions with them this week.”

READ MORE:Court denies request to dismiss case involving flight refunds, Canadian Transportation Agency

Alberta-based WestJet has announced it will refund travellers whose flights have been cancelled due to the pandemic. In a statement Sunday, the airline said it would evaluate the federal government’s announcement that it is prepared to provide financial assistance.

“(We) will await greater clarity on what support for the aviation sector might include,” WestJet said.

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“As we determine how to proceed in the best interests of our guests, our people and the communities we serve, we won’t be making any further comment.”

In addition to financial support for the industry, Kenney said Canada also needs to develop a domestic travel framework and a national plan for rapid testing.

“Alberta’s government encourages the Government of Canada to develop a national framework to reduce quarantine times for international travellers, as we have done successfully with the international travel pilot program at the Calgary International Airport and Coutts border crossing,” the premier said.

“Canada’s government should work with the provinces to ensure that Canadians can support this critical sector, and the tourism industry which is also impacted by declining passenger volumes.”

READ MORE: Expedited COVID-19 testing now available at Calgary airport, Coutts border crossing

Garneau said the federal government would demand airlines refund what is estimated to be millions of dollars in pre-paid flight tickets and a curb on cancelled routes.

“We will ensure Canadians and regional communities retain air connections to the rest of Canada,” he said.

It was not immediately clear whether that would include pushing Air Canada and others to resume dozens of routes that are currently suspended.

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Canadian airline revenues in 2020 will fall by $14.6 billion or 43 per cent from last year, according to estimates in May from the International Air Transport Association.

— With files from The Canadian Press