A B.C. woman who refused to accept a voucher for a cancelled pandemic flight has finally got her money back.
“I’ve cursed and cried a lot in the last 10 months,” Summer Barger told Global News.
On March 9, 2020, the Cranbrook resident booked a Sunwing flight from Calgary to the Dominican Republic.
Those plans were sidelined when COVID-19 hit and Sunwing cancelled her flight. Initially, Summer said the airline offered her the option of a refund, but shortly changed its policy offering only a voucher.
“I didn’t pay $2,100 for a voucher. I paid $2,100 for a vacation and they (Sunwing) weren’t providing that. I wanted my money back,” Barger said.
That marked the beginning of her battle. Barger said she reached out to Sunwing Vacations repeatedly requesting a refund, but got nowhere.
She had purchased her vacation with her CIBC Visa card so Barger pursued an internal chargeback with her credit card.
“That went on from March until July and it failed. So, I lost that internal chargeback with CIBC,” Barger said.
Barger said under the guidance of the non-profit advocacy group Air Passenger Rights, she started what’s called a statutory chargeback with her credit card issuer CIBC to recover her money.
B.C. has consumer protection laws in place which require credit card issuers to reverse or cancel charges for services that a consumer doesn’t receive.
In December, Barger said, she received a call from CIBC informing her it was declining her request for a refund in the original form of payment.
When Barger challenged the decision stating CIBC was going against provincial law, she said the CIBC customer care representative told her verbally “proper law supersedes provincial law.”
Vancouver-based lawyer Kyla Lee said there is no such thing as “proper law.”
“That is not a term that we use in Canada. It has no reference to anything else and you also can’t write a contract that supersedes a statute,” Lee said.
Barger said prior to going through the statutory chargeback process she also filed her dispute with Sunwing Vacations to B.C.’s Civil Resolution Tribunal which deals with small claims disputes $5,000 and under.
As she was going through that process, Barger said Sunwing offered her a full settlement, but she rejected the airline’s offer.
“They emailed me a full settlement, but it came with a complete confidentiality clause,” she said.
The confidentiality clause would have prevented Barger from sharing her story publicly.
Barger continued to be persistent, reaching out to CIBC again in January requesting a written letter asking whether it was going to deny her again or refund her money for the cancelled flight.
To her surprise, she said CIBC called her back and offered her a full refund.
“The director of client care called me and said we are going to cut to the chase we are going to reimburse you,” Barger said.
Consumer Matters reached out to CIBC about Barger’s case and received the following statement:
“When an individual buys a product or service and wishes to request a refund, they should first seek a refund from the company where the purchase was made. We review reimbursement requests on a case-by-case basis taking into account individual circumstances. In the case of travel, as part of our review, we consider whether a client has been offered a voucher.”
Air passengers’ rights advocate Gabor Lukacs told Consumer Matters Barger’s story speaks to the state of Canada’s consumer protection laws.
“It shows how broken consumer protection law has become in Canada, especially at the federal level. Under normal circumstances, the Canadian Transportation Agency should have long ago issued marching orders to the airlines to comply with the law,” Lukacs said.
Barger said she’s relieved her battle is over, but hopes her story will help other consumers in their fight for a refund.
“You have to be persistent. You have to stay on their radar,” she said.
For more information on the statutory chargeback process go to Air Passenger Rights