Air Canada Illegally Flouting Customer Compensation Rules

Air Canada was one of the worst actors of the pandemic. They took customer money for tickets, and then when they cancelled flights they kept the money.

The Canadian government backed up the airline suggesting customers who were out the money should have sympathy for how hard it was in the airline business. It’s only when Canada gave its flag carrier subsidies that the airline released the funds to customers that it had been holding hostage. (In other words, refunds were provided by taxpayers, who whose pockets were picked for far more by this bad actor for the privilege.)

The U.S. government even settled its refund dispute with Air Canada with the largest fine it ever levied The DOT’s new Notice of Proposed Rulemaking is even inspired in part by Air Canada’s blatant disregard for norms and rules.

So it should come as no surprise that the airline has a new trick up its sleeve. They’re flouting Canadian passenger compensation rules for cancelled flights by claiming that their lack of staffing which causes a cancellation is a safety issue. And the law allows airlines to cancel without compensation when it’s to protect safety. After all, you wouldn’t want to create a financial incentive to ignore safety.

A customer relations email to Farrell obtained by The Canadian Press said, “since your Air Canada flight was delayed/canceled due to crew constraints resulting from the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on our operations, the compensation you are requesting does not apply because the delay/cancellation was caused by a safety-related issue.”

Air Canada’s response to Farrell is part of a company-wide policy that instructs employees to classify flight cancellations caused by staff shortages as a “safety” problem. Doing so excludes travelers from being able to access compensation under federal regulations, according to the company’s policy.

In Canada, the Air Passenger Protection Regulations require airlines to pay up $1,000 in compensation for cancellations or significant delays that are within the carrier’s control when the notification comes 14 days or less before departure. Airlines do not have to provide any payment if the change was required for safety purposes.

The Canadian Transportation Agency says this is clearly illegal, that lack of staff is a reason for cancellation and cannot be lumped in with safety issues. But what should the Canadian government expect? They clearly taught Air Canada that they could get away with abusing customers and flouting refund rules, even defending the practice. And it’s only when Air Canada was given more money than the cost of refunds (making a profit on refunds!) that money flowed. Why wouldn’t they go back to this well?

The sad thing is that while American Airlines and Delta were fairly honest and fair-dealing in handling customer refunds during the pandemic, and United and JetBlue were closer to the Air Canada camp until the DOT put its boot on their necks, there’s been little reputational benefit that accrued to the better corporate citizens and little consumer punishment for the scofflaws. To the extent we let airlines get away with ripping off customers, it’s our fault too right?

(HT: @crucker)

About Gary Leff

Gary Leff is one of the foremost experts in the field of miles, points, and frequent business travel - a topic he has covered since 2002. Co-founder of frequent flyer community, emcee of the Freddie Awards, and named one of the "World's Top Travel Experts" by Conde' Nast Traveler (2010-Present) Gary has been a guest on most major news media, profiled in several top print publications, and published broadly on the topic of consumer loyalty. More About Gary »

More articles by Gary Leff »


  1. Air Canada is doing this with implicit (wink wink) support from the Canadian government. To think unless otherwise is foolish

  2. As long as I’ve been aware of this airline they have been a nightmare to do business with
    Years ago they canceled my flight and refused a refund.Luckily because I booked through United they refunded my money
    Never flown them since.Its been 20 years ago at least.Actions have consequences
    Good luck to them

  3. I do not do business with the Air Canada Dumpster Fire. I cut them out of my life about 10 years ago.

  4. Our 7/27/22 Air Canada flight LIS-YYZ was delayed by 2.5 hours missing the connection to ORD and then on to SNA by minutes. The flight staff was indifferent, no one was waiting for the flight at the YYZ gate to ease up the connections (just the cry to follow the purple sign!), and the LIS gate crew were disinterested and cared less if the flight took off on time or not. The atmosphere at both the LIS and YYZ was chaotic at best. Spent $5K on 4 seats in shitty economy – never again!

    I requested compensation online to no response or even an acknowledgment!

  5. The flag carrier bailed out by taxpayers and corrupt Liberal government? No this can’t be true lol

  6. I’d be curious to know how they compare against WestJet and Porter in this regard. It could open up a potentially devastating advertising campaign if Air Canada is the most dishonest of the three.

  7. Most routes just aren’t competitive enough for a consumer to consider “corporate behavior” when purchasing tickets. I care about whether the airline is running a reliable operation now, not what they did in 2020

  8. Currently dealing with this. Flight was cancelled and no alternate routing, food, hotel, etc was provided. We got an email and text that the flight was cancelled and that updates would be provided soon. Never heard anything else and their phone lines wouldn’t even let us get to an agent.

    Ended up purchasing a ticket on Delta last minute. Still haven’t even gotten a refund nevermind the $1000 CAD owed. Air Canada did not respond to our refund request within 30 days as they’re legally obligated to, so I submitted a complaint to the CTA (which has a 65 business day wait time apparently). I would do a chargeback but the flight was purchased using Aeroplan points transferred from my CC. Not sure if they can “charge back” the points but I doubt it.

  9. Not only is Air Canada playing the game with their Covid and safety excuse to directly compensate those they screwed over, they are doing the same to those who have credit card coverage for flight delay and cancelation claims. As I was just informed by RSA (Royal Sun Alliance) who provide this coverage to Visa as part of its annual fees, the insurers now get to play the game and deny expenses per flight delays and cancelations. Air Canada strives to living up to its motto….We’re not happy until your unhappy….and now they bring their insurance friends to their party. I hope there is a class action suit coming against Air Canada or RSA, count me in.

  10. This airline uses #COVID as an excuse for everything, even though the Canadian government financially bailed them out and helped them find workers.

    For years Air Canada has been “woke” and PC, thinking that’s all they needed to do for corporate social responsibility. They forgot the basics — putting the customer first, and following the rules!

  11. Thank you for this post!
    Just to add some..
    My friend had a credit for his canceled ticket. When the time came to use this credit, he found a flight to New York online – less then $400. He called Air Canada… They have charged over $500 for this ticket! Motivated that at the time of purchase this was the price!!!
    I find it low and unfair!
    I hope there will be some organizations to look into such frauds.

  12. Garbage airline should have gone under in 2009 but the scum corrupt Harper govt bailed them out in exchange for his chief of staff getting a VP job at AC.

    AC heavily relies on the US market to fill their planes with connecting pax so hopefully word spreads down in the US about their 35% on time performance and all their sleazy practices

  13. Just received the same response for our flight at the beginning of July. We ended up getting home 42 hours late. Two problems with this explanation. First, we were in Montreal, where their head office and one of their largest crew bases is. Second, the crew were waiting with us for the plane to be cleaned. Not kidding, we waited for four hours to have the plane cleaned, because we were moved to it when it was scheduled to be there overnight. Then the crew timed out so flight was cancelled after a 7 hour delay.
    We were 8 people, so well worth the time to complain to CTA for $8000 in compensation.
    And AC very well knew that they had violated the rules because they sent us 8 $500 e coupons immediately after we got home, likely in hope of having us not make a compensation claim. They have asked for receipts for expenses, so maybe they will at least reimburse that $1800.
    To be fair (?), WestJet is doing pretty much exactly the same thing and have already had a finding against them by the CTA for it. They are both just kicking the can down the road in hopes of people giving up. To a certain extent, it is probably working because my flight in May was delayed slightly over three hours. They sent me a $100 e coupon and I couldn’t be bothered to go through the multimonth (year) process for $400, but for $8000, I can hang around a whole lot longer.

  14. Sean M try and fly a plane with out pilots…… sounds more like a HR inability to schedule .

  15. Yep, 4 hour delay on July 17 arriving in Dublin from Toronto, AC’s reply to compensation was that it wasn’t their fault. Which could be, but would like to know what it was besides not caring and bad scheduling.
    Waiting to hear back what they’ll say on the return flight where we were delayed, missed a connection, delayed again, missed a rerouted connection and arrived home 18 hours late….

  16. Good timing – I’m just booking a long-haul flight to Asia.

    AC is a little cheaper, and a little faster, but as a result of their behaviour they’re not getting CAD10k of my business.

    Won’t make much difference in the grand scheme of things, but at least I feel a little better about my choices.

  17. Next will be travel insurers because they will be getting the same answers from Air Canada as they subrogate. Waiting on 3o days from travel insurance claim for flight interruptions which Air Canada gives the same verbatim wording as this article when it boils down to them not having staff and delaying flight after flight (3/3 connections delayed and then I missed my fourth, no surprise). So I am suing them in small claims court for the $1000 and my unexpected hotel bill as the CTA cannot process claims in any timely manner and favors airlines like they did with the refund fiasco in 2020/21.

  18. “… refunds were provided by taxpayers, who whose pockets were picked for far more by this bac actor for the privilege.” Please don’t let your editing standards slip. It detracts from your content.

  19. Air Canada cancel flight AC 114 which supposed to take off one hour later than our AC 112, but AC staff push AC 114 travelers cut in lines urgently, besides, there are a series shortage of AC staff, No matter we arrive YVR 3 hrs early for domestic flight to YYZ, we miss flight AC112, because it’s too late to get on board, .then not only miss AC 820 to Barcelona, but also miss Regal Princess cruise setting sail, we struggle with so much unexpected expenses: for accommodations, transportation, dining…, 5 days later, we get on board at Marseille France eventually.
    Air Canada answer my request for compensation: does not apply because the delay was caused by a safety-related issue.
    It’s not true!AC 112 takes off on time, but it’s us who do nothing wrong, who are sacrificed unworthily.
    Your kindly advices are appreciated.

  20. I had a flight cancellation in Montreal due to the staffing shortage craziness. I booked with aeroplan and was able to get the points refunded. The aero plan staff was helpful but the airport staff was very indifferent (this happens so much that they realize there are no consequences to failing their customers). Seriously I’ve gotten better customer service from Spirit Airlines. I told them off at customer service waiting for my weather flight that the cancellation was out of the staffs control but how they treated stranded customer was negligent and childish.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.