People line up and check in for an international flight at Pearson International Airport during the COVID-19 pandemic in Toronto, Wednesday, Oct. 14, 2020. The head of a consumer interest group is calling on airlines to refund passengers’ cancelled fares, ahead of a hearing today in Parliament on the impact of COVID-19 on air travel. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Nathan Denette

People line up and check in for an international flight at Pearson International Airport during the COVID-19 pandemic in Toronto, Wednesday, Oct. 14, 2020. The head of a consumer interest group is calling on airlines to refund passengers’ cancelled fares, ahead of a hearing today in Parliament on the impact of COVID-19 on air travel. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Nathan Denette

Consumer rights advocates call for airline refunds in Parliament hearing

The hearing comes as airlines await an aid package from the federal government

Representatives from consumer advocacy groups blasted the federal government on Tuesday, accusing it of putting the interests of airlines above those of consumers by allowing carriers to issue vouchers for cancelled flights rather than full refunds.

The comments were made by witnesses at a meeting of Parliament’s standing committee on transport, infrastructure and communities, which focused on the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on the airline industry.

“Passengers still have a fundamental right to a refund, regardless of the reason for the cancellation,” Gabor Lukacs, the founder of consumer group Air Passenger Rights, told the committee.

The hearing comes as airlines await an aid package from the federal government. Ottawa has said it would not issue any financial support unless airlines refunded passengers for their fares, prompting criticism from the industry, which says the federal government is unnecessarily delaying aid to the embattled sector.

On Tuesday, Air Canada announced that it was cutting some routes in Atlantic Canada until further notice due to challenging market conditions. Those cuts follow others in the region in June, as well as similar service reductions by WestJet, which said in October that it would suspend 80 per cent of its Atlantic Canada capacity.

Ian Jack, vice president of public affairs for the Canadian Automobile Association, said during the committee meeting that the route cuts in Atlantic Canada might be part of a negotiation strategy by the airlines to pressure Ottawa to make concessions to the industry.

At the meeting, Lukacs argued that Canadian law requires that passengers be reimbursed for their cancelled fares, focusing on a statement by the Canadian Transportation Agency earlier this year that he claimed provided misleading information about what travellers’ rights were with respect to refunds.

The agency advised consumers in March that for flight disruptions beyond an airline’s control, Canada’s law only requires that the airline “ensure passengers can complete their itineraries.”

But Lukacs said that when an airline doesn’t provide a service that passengers paid for, for whatever reason, passengers are entitled to a refund under the law.

Sylvie De Bellefeuille, a lawyer with Option consommateurs, a consumer group based in Montreal, told the committee that the organization has received a record number of calls from consumers asking for information about how to obtain a refund for their airline tickets.

She added that issuing vouchers rather than full refunds was an unfair and unacceptable solution.

“This pandemic has also hit industries other than the airline industry, and hard,” De Bellefeuille said. “It is not up to consumers to finance airlines.”

John Lawford, the executive director and general counsel of the Public Interest Advocacy Centre, said prior to the committee meeting that forcing airlines to issue the refunds is the least the government could do for people who have fallen on hard times due to COVID-19.

READ MORE: Feds pledge customer refunds before ‘we spend one penny’ on aid package for airlines

He criticized the federal government for dealing with Canada’s airlines, that are fighting in court to quash rules that bolster compensation for passengers who experience delayed flights or damaged baggage.

He urged the federal government to make dropping the lawsuit a condition of any aid package it issues to the airline sector.

Lawford also called for the federal government to mandate a “refund fund” into which airlines would have to put a small portion of revenue in case of an unforeseen event, like a pandemic.

Jon Victor, The Canadian Press


Like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter.

Want to support local journalism during the pandemic? Make a donation here.

Air TravelAirlinesCoronavirus

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

The Independent Investigations Office of BC (IIO) is looking into the death of man discovered Jan. 11 in east Maple Ridge. (Black Press files)
B.C.’s police watchdog investigating man’s death in Maple Ridge

Man was found dead Jan. 11 after recent contact with police

Staff at Bruce’s Country Market are being asked to monitor for symptoms of COVID-19 after an exposure at the Maple Ridge grocery store. (The News files)
Employee at Maple Ridge grocery store tests positive for COVID-19

All other staff in the department have tested negative for disease

Alouette Heights.
Fire at Alouette Heights in Maple Ridge puts half of residents out of their units

Coast Mental Health said fire was small, but sprinkler system caused damage

People skate on a lake in a city park in Montreal, Sunday, January 10, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Graham Hughes
The end of hugs: How COVID-19 has changed daily life a year after Canada’s 1st case

Today marks the one year anniversary of COVID-19 landing in Canada

Myrna Norman credits social activity for her success fighting dementia. (Special to The News)
Maple Ridge woman writes inspirational book documenting living with dementia

Myrna Norman has been an active community advocate for de-stigmatizing the debilitating disease

Crews with Discovery Channel film as an Aggressive Towing driver moves a Grumman S2F Tracker aircraft around a 90-degree turn from its compound and onto the road on Saturday, Jan. 23, 2021. It was the “most difficult” part of the move for the airplane, one organizer said. (Jenna Hauck/ Chilliwack Progress)
VIDEO: Vintage military plane gets towed from Chilliwack to Greater Victoria

Grumman CP-121 Tracker’s eventual home the British Columbia Aviation Museum on Vancouver Island

Chilliwack Law Courts. (Black Press file)
Man sentenced to 20 months for sexual offences involving a minor in Mission

Will Laws Clark was 22 and victim was 13 at time offences began

Rolling seven-day average of cases by B.C. health authority to Jan. 21. Fraser Health in purple, Vancouver Coastal red, Interior Health orange, Northern Health green and Vancouver Island blue. (B.C. Centre for Disease Control)
2nd COVID vaccine doses on hold as B.C. delivery delayed again

New COVID-19 cases slowing in Fraser Health region

Provincial health officer Dr. Bonnie Henry talk about the next steps in B.C.’s COVID-19 Immunization Plan during a press conference at Legislature in Victoria, B.C., on Friday, January 22, 2021. Two more cases of the COVID-19 strain first identified in South Africa have been diagnosed in British Columbia, bringing the total to three as of Jan. 16.THE CANADIAN PRESS/Chad Hipolito
B.C. now has three cases of South African COVID-19 variant, six of U.K. strain

Both variants are thought to spread faster than earlier strains

Cannabis bought in British Columbia (Ashley Wadhwani/Black Press Media)
Is it time to start thinking about greener ways to package cannabis?

Packaging suppliers are still figuring eco-friendly and affordable packaging options that fit the mandates of Cannabis Regulations

Rodney and Ekaterina Baker in an undated photo from social media. The couple has been ticketed and charged under the Yukon’s <em>Civil Emergency Measures Act</em> for breaking isolation requirements in order to sneak into a vaccine clinic and receive Moderna vaccine doses in Beaver Creek. (Facebook/Submitted)
Great Canadian Gaming CEO resigns after being accused of sneaking into Yukon for vaccine

Rod Baker and Ekaterina Baker were charged with two CEMA violations each

Police discovered a makeshift nightclub in a Vancouver apartment on Jan. 23, 2021, and say it wasn’t the first time this month officers have been called to the unit over social gathering concerns. (Phil McLachlan - Capital News)
Doorman of makeshift ‘booze-can’ in Vancouver apartment fined; police look to court order

This marks the fourth complaint about social gatherings inside the apartment in January

A Kelowna couple welcomed their Nooner baby in December. (Flytographer)
Kelowna couple welcomes baby girl from Hotel Zed Nooner campaign

Nicole and Alex will now have 18 years of free stays at the hotel

The Abbotsford Tulip Festival is permanently closing, with plans to eventually set up in Armstrong, B.C. (Abbotsford News file photo)
Abbotsford Tulip Festival is closing, with plans to rebloom in Armstrong

Event organizer says pandemic and sale of land were factors in decision

Most Read