Trudeau says government will look into airline refund policy

Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau speaks during his daily news conference on the COVID-19 pandemic outside his residence at Rideau Cottage in Ottawa, Ontario, on Tuesday, May 19, 2020. (Justin Tang/The Canadian Press via AP)
Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau speaks during his daily news conference on the COVID-19 pandemic outside his residence at Rideau Cottage in Ottawa, Ontario, on Tuesday, May 19, 2020. (Justin Tang/The Canadian Press via AP)

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said the government will look into the issue of airlines providing travel vouchers instead of refunds for cancelled flights, as thousands of Canadians sign petitions calling for a ban to the practice.

Speaking to reporters at his daily briefing on Thursday, Trudeau said the government is “working with all concerned parties to try to find a solution,” adding that it was an important issue for Canadians.

“(We recognize how) impacted air travel and airlines are by this COVID-19 pandemic. We also recognize that many Canadians are out of pocket for tickets that they are obviously not going to be using,” Trudeau said Thursday.

“I think we need to have some very careful discussions with airlines, the air travel sector and indeed with Canadians who are concerned to try to figure out a way forward where we can ensure that Canadians are treated fairly and our airline industry remains there for when our economy picks up again.”

Thousands of Canadians have signed several petitions circulating online calling on airlines to provide refunds instead of travel vouchers.

Trudeau would not say whether the government would require Canadian airlines to refund customers for cancelled trips, but said it is looking at what other countries are doing as well as discussing solutions with the airlines. 

“We’re looking to make sure Canadians are supported financially through this time but that also we’re going to come back with airlines that function here in Canada for the long term,” he said.

“Getting that balance right will be delicate, but it’s something we’ll be working on.”

While U.S. and European Union officials have ordered airlines to reimburse passengers for cancelled flights, Canadian airlines are not obligated to do the same. The Canadian Transportation Agency (CTA), a quasi-judicial organization that resolves disputes related to air travel, issued a statement in late March allowing airlines to provide vouchers or credits for future travel instead of refunds.

None of Canada's major airlines are offering to return cash to passengers for the hundreds of thousands of flight cancellations since mid-March, opting instead to dole out 24-month vouchers that have left many customers frustrated over a service they paid for but have not received.

The International Air Transport Association, an industry group that represents 290 airlines around the world including Air Canada and WestJet, has previously said that refunding tickets is an “unbearable” task for airlines as they grapple with the coronavirus pandemic.

“We are perfectly conscious of the difficulty for the passenger not to be refunded immediately,” IATA chief executive Alexandre de Juniac said last month.

“But the point is that it is a matter of survival for us. We have no cash to refund the upfront ticket.”

With files from the Canadian Press

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