Skeena-Bulkley Valley MP Taylor Bachrach is urging the federal government to require airlines to refund Canadian customers the cost of airfare tickets that have gone unused due to COVID-19, including tourism operators in Northwest B.C.
In a letter dated May 28, Bachrach wrote to Transport Minister Marc Garneau to express concern that Canadian airlines are refusing to refund the cost of purchased tickets.
“The decision to exempt cancellations due to COVID-19 and associated travel restrictions from the responsibilities of airlines under the Air Passenger Bill of Rights is deeply disappointing,” Bachrach wrote. “Your government should step in and require that airlines do the right thing by providing full refunds to customers.”
Bachrach also wrote he had heard from “numerous constituents whose travel plans have been cancelled and who have been left with little hope that they will ever see their money.”
“The 12-month credit many airlines are offering is of little help for people who feel uncomfortable about the risks of travelling again before a vaccine is available,” he wrote. “I have also heard specific concerns from tourism operators in our region who purchased bulk airline tickets for their customers ahead of the tourism season. Many of these are local small business owners who welcome visitors from around the world to enjoy the world-class sport fishing, outdoor activities and wildlife watching for which Northwest B.C. is renowned.
“At a time when small businesses — especially those involved in tourism — are really hurting, the money being held by airlines that operators are no longer able to access is only serving to make things more challenging.”
In a Facebook post on May 29, Bachrach added that in some cases, tourism operators in Northwest B.C. are out “tens of thousands of dollars.”
The Canadian Transportation Agency (CTA) later took issue with the line in Bachrach’s letter that said there had been a decision made to exempt cancellations due to COVID-19 and associated travel restrictions from the responsibilities of airlines under the Air Passenger Bill of Rights.
A media spokesperson for the CTA reached out to the Observer to note the legislative framework does not require refunds for situations outside of the airline’s control.
“Airlines are only required to complete the passenger’s itinerary in these situations,” the spokesperson said.
In response, Bachrach told the Observer his letter was referring to the March 13 determination by the CTA that “clearly states that they are granting temporary exemptions for certain provisions” under the Air Passenger Bill of Rights.
The March 13 CTA determination ordered that all air carriers be exempted from the obligation, under the Air Passenger Bill of Rights, to pay compensation for inconvenience, as well as other other exemptions.
“Specifically, the agency finds it undesirable, in the current extraordinary circumstances, that carriers be obligated to provide compensation for inconvenience to passengers who were informed of a flight delay or a flight cancellation more than 72 hours before their original scheduled departure or to passengers who were delayed at destination by less than six hours,” the CTA concluded in the determination.
But Bachrach maintained that compensation “rightfully belongs to the people who purchased the tickets and weren’t able to use them, and it should be refunded.”
“The fact remains that Canadians are being asked to bail out the airlines,” Bachrach said by phone.
“Ordinary families in Northwest B.C. and across the country are struggling financially and they’re the folks I represent, and it’s their concerns and their situations that are foremost in my mind.”
Earlier this month, petitions with tens of thousands of signatures calling for full refunds to be implemented before financial aid is handed out to airlines were circulating across the country and presented to the House of Commons.
None of Canada’s major airlines were offering to return cash to passengers for the hundreds of thousands of flight cancellations since mid-March, opting instead for 24-month vouchers.
On May 23, amid mounting customer frustration, Air Canada revised its cancellation policy to offer travellers the option of a voucher with no expiration date or Aeroplan points if the airline cancels their flight due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
The airline says the new policy — the previous one capped travel vouchers at 24 months, with no Aeroplan option — applies to non-refundable tickets issued up to the end of June, with an original travel date between March 1 and June 30.
— With files from The Canadian Press
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