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

Just Posted

Keith Thorpe/Peninsula Daily News
Search called off for small plane that went down in rough water south of Victoria

Plane bound for Port Angeles from Alaska believed to have one occupant, an Alaskan pilot

The Save-On-Foods Memorial Centre will once again be transformed into temporary sheltering for 45 individuals starting in March. (Courtesy of the B.C. Government)
Temporary shelter to resume at Victoria Save-On-Foods arena in March

BC Housing signed lease with GSL Group from Feb. 1 to May 30

The memorial site for double-murder victims Nellie Williams and Fran Shurie, located in Charles Hoey Park, will be allowed to stay for another two months after the City of Duncan changed its policy on temporary memorials. (Robert Barron/Citizen)
Duncan allowing memorials to murdered pair stay longer

Policy change related to memorial for double-homicide victims in city park

An Island Health graph showing COVID-19 cases in the central Island by local health area between Dec. 27 and Jan. 23. (Island Health image)
Central Island’s COVID-19 case spike shifting, says Island Health

Cowichan Valley has seen the highest number of cases, but Nanaimo and south Island seeing upticks

(Twitter/Ateachersaurus)
The Pachena Bay shoreline in 2013. (Twitter/Ateachersaurus)
This week in history: 9.0 magnitude quake struck under what is now called Vancouver Island

According to First Nations elders, the 9.0-magnitude quake in 1700 CE kick-started a tsunami

British Columbia Health Minister Adrian Dix looks on as Provincial Health Officer Dr. Bonnie Henry addresses the media during a news conference at the BC Centre of Disease Control in Vancouver B.C. (THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jonathan Hayward)
B.C. announces 485 new COVID-19 cases, fewest deaths in months

‘The actions we take may seem small, but will have a big impact to stop the virus,” urges Dr. Henry

Victoria police will be making numerous arrests throughout the day Jan. 27 as part of its #VicPDWarrantWednesday project. (Nina Grossman/News Staff)
Numerous arrests today part of Victoria police #WarrantWednesday project

VicPD says arrests part of warrant enforcement project

The barge sank again on Jan. 8 and is still resting under water. (Bill McQuarrie photo)
Refloating of sunken Port McNeill barge to resume in early February

This will be the second attempt at recovery after poor weather conditions caused barge to re-sink

B.C. Premier John Horgan wears a protective face mask to help prevent the spread of COVID-19 prior to being sworn in by The Honourable Janet Austin, Lieutenant Governor of British Columbia during a virtual swearing in ceremony in Victoria, Thursday, November 26, 2020. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jonathan Hayward
Premier Horgan calls jumping COVID vaccine queue ‘un-Canadian’

Horgan says most people in B.C. are doing their best to follow current public health guidelines

Worker at Swartz Bay terminal on Monday, January 20, 2020. (THE CANADIAN PRESS/Chad Hipolito)
Former BC Ferries employee alleges he was fired because of his race

Imraan Goondiwala has been granted a BC Human Rights Tribunal hearing

Former Vancouver Giants forward Evander Kane is seen here in Game 7 of the second round of the 2009 WHL playoffs against the Spokane Chiefs (Sam Chan under Wikipedia Commons licence)
Gambling debts revealed in details of bankruptcy filing by hockey star Evander Kane

Sharks left winger and former Vancouver Giants player owes close to $30 million total

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, left, and Vancouver Mayor Kennedy Stewart share a laugh while speaking to the media before sitting down for a meeting at City Hall, in Vancouver, on Friday August 30, 2019. (THE CANADIAN PRESS/Darryl Dyck)
Vancouver mayor, Health Canada to formally discuss drug decriminalization

Kennedy Stewart says he’s encouraged by the federal health minister’s commitment to work with the city

Victoria police are seeking a young woman suspected of spitting on a bus driver in October 2020. (Courtesy of Victoria Police Department)
Young woman sought after ‘spitting assault’ on Victoria bus driver

Suspect became irate after bus came to a sudden stop

Downtown Fernie is pictured after a snowfall.

Most Read