The New Year has started off with an old complaint from many Canadian flyers who want their money back for cancelled flights.
Julie Brobst is one of many travellers who now has her money parked in a WestJet travel bank.
“$2300 is a lot of money,” she told Global News. “I don’t just have that lying around.”
The Red Deer resident booked a flight in June 2020 to fly over the summer to Halifax to surprise her mom.
“Everything was good up until July,” she added. “And then I got an email from WestJet saying they were cancelling flights.”
WestJet did offer Brobst the option of another flight departing that same day. But since it was a connecting flight and didn’t work for her young family, Brobst cancelled her reservation.
Brobst said she was told that because she cancelled the flight herself despite being given another option, the money would automatically go into a travel bank, which she was not happy about.
“Right now people are losing hours, they’re losing jobs,” she said. “And like I said $2,300 is a lot of money.”
Angry flyers have flooded WestJet’s Facebook page with similar complaints. Most are asking for refunds, not a credit for their cancelled flights, most of which were cancelled due to COVID-19.
Air Canada’s social media page has seen the same type of complaints about refunds versus credit vouchers.
Global News reached out to both airlines for comment.
WestJet said in a statement: “We look to Transport Canada and the CTA (Canadian Transportation Agency) for regulations on pricing and tariffs. They have weighed in on the matter and have noted in their clarification that airline tariffs do not always provide for cash refunds especially in cases beyond our control.”
The Calgary-based airline added despite the CTA confirming travel vouchers can be an appropriate approach, it has been providing refunds for all travellers “where WestJet initiated the cancellation.”
Air Canada responded it “has been providing refunds to customers holding refundable tickets as per these fares’ terms and conditions. Since the beginning of the year we have refunded approximately $1.2 billion in refundable tickets.”
Canada’s largest airline also said customers with non-refundable tickets are offered a travel credit or they can convert their booking to Aeroplan points with an extra bonus.
It too said its policy is “in accordance with direction given by the Canadian Transportation Agency, which said credits are an acceptable alternative.”
Policy vs. Law
Air Passenger Rights founder and president Gábor Lukács told Global News airlines cannot make policies about refunds despite what many travellers believe and airlines post.
“Who cares what they’re saying? Who cares what their policy is?” he asked.
“A refund is a legal right and the law is that when an airline does not operate a flight, it has to issue a refund.”
Lukács also pointed to provincial statutes which are intended to protect consumers. He added Albertans are in a particularly good legal position when it comes to a statutory chargeback.
“Alberta has a special regulation about online purchases. This regulation says if you are not being provided the service you paid for, you can demand a refund to the original form of payment,” he said.
He added this also applies to people living outside of the province who purchase goods or services from an Alberta company, such as WestJet.
“This is not an internal dispute of you phoning your credit card company, which most people do,” he said.
“This is a legal demand, a legal notice and the regulations are clear that the credit card company must refund, must reverse the charges.”
Global News reached out to the ministry of Service Alberta. Press Secretary Tricia Velthuizen said complaints regarding airfare refunds fall under federal jurisdiction.
But she did add: “Under some circumstances a person who purchased a ticket online may have some additional protections under the Internet Sales Contract Regulation. Such protections would be determined on a case-by-case basis.”
Service Alberta recommended individuals with such concerns call the Consumer Contact Centre to discuss their situation and file a formal complaint.
WestJet recently reduced its routes to Halifax from Alberta. Brobst said that has meant even fewer options for her family and the money WestJet is holding.
“My money just sits there, is just sitting there. And I can’t use it.”