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

Cedar Valley Lodge, LNG Canada’s newest accommodation for workers at the LNG Canada Project site in Kitimat. The most recent outbreak among workers at the project site was just declared over. (Photo courtesy of LNG Canada)
Second COVID-19 outbreak at LNG Canada Project site declared over

The outbreak was first declared on Dec. 16, 2020

CGL has closed down the two lodges affected to everyone except the essential staff. (Black Press file photo)
All COVID-19 cases associated with Coastal GasLink outbreak deemed recovered

Outbreaks occurred at CGL project accommodation sites in Burns Lake and Nechako Local Health Areas

Prince Rupert Branch of BC SPCA has partnered with the Greater Massett Food Bank to provide pet food to guardians in need during the pandemic, Joe Griffiths manager of BC SPCA said on Jan. 6. (Photo: K-J Millar/The Northern View)
Greater Massett Food Bank partners with BC SPCA

Greater Masset Food Bank has recently received more than 800 kg of pet food for those in need

Northern Health said their new portal can be used by Northern B.C. patients to access various health-based information and results, including COVID-19 test results. (K-J Millar/Black Press Media)
New digital portal available for Northern Health patients

Northern B.C. residents can use HealtheLife to access various health-based information

Keith the curious kitten is seen on Nov. 4, 2020 at the Chilliwack SPCA. Friday, Jan. 22, 2021 is Answer Your Cat’s Questions Day. (Jenna Hauck/ Chilliwack Progress file)
Unofficial holidays: Here’s what people are celebrating for the week of Jan. 17 to 23

Answer Your Cat’s Questions Day, Pie Day and International Sweatpants Day are all coming up this week

(Phil McLachlan - Capital News)
‘Targeted’ shooting in Coquitlam leaves woman in hospital

The woman suffered non-life threatening injuries in what police believe to be a targeted shooting Saturday morning

JaHyung Lee, “Canada’s oldest senior” at 110 years old, received his first dose of the COVID-19 vaccine on Thursday, Jan. 14, 2021. He lives at Amenida Seniors Community in Newton. (Submitted photo: Amenida Seniors Community)
A unique-looking deer has been visiting a Nanoose Bay property with its mother. (Frieda Van der Ree photo)
A deer with 3 ears? Unique animal routinely visits B.C. property

Experts say interesting look may be result of an injury rather than an odd birth defect

Standardized foundation skills assessment tests in B.C. schools will be going ahead later than usual, from Feb. 16 to March 12 for students in Grades 4 and 7. (Black Press Media file photo)
B.C. teachers say COVID-affected school year perfect time to end standardized tests

Foundational skills testing of Grade 4 and 7 students planned for February ad March

Sooke’s Jim Bottomley is among a handful of futurists based in Canada. “I want to help people understand the future of humanity.” (Aaron Guillen - Sooke News Mirror)
No crystal ball: B.C. man reveals how he makes his living predicting the future

63-year-old has worked analytical magic for politicians, car brands, and cosmetic companies

Join Black Press Media and Do Some Good
Join Black Press Media and Do Some Good

Pay it Forward program supports local businesses in their community giving

Terry David Mulligan. (Submitted photo)
Podcast: Interview with longtime actor/broadcaster and B.C. resident Terry David Mulligan

Podcast: Talk includes TDM’s RCMP career, radio, TV, wine, Janis Joplin and much more

Seasonal influenza vaccine is administered starting each fall in B.C. and around the world. (Langley Advance Times)
After 30,000 tests, influenza virtually nowhere to be found in B.C.

COVID-19 precautions have eliminated seasonal infection

Most Read