The U.S. government is clear that airlines must refund passengers whose flights are cancelled. The European Union is clear on this too but airlines have ignored their rules. In fact, European airlines have offered refunds to Americans (or where itineraries touch the U.S.) but not for Europeans (travel that doesn’t touch the U.S.).
Canada had been clear that airlines do not have to refund passengers for cancelled flights. Their government said vouchers valid for 24 months are fine.
Of course, for flights touching the U.S. Canadian airlines are still obligated to provide refunds under U.S. law. When they refuse,
After the DOT spoke, the worst offenders United Airlines and JetBlue found religion and started issuing refunds to customers upon request.
Now Canada is even backtracking a bit saying that their earlier guidance that airlines weren’t responsible for refunds if they offered 24 month vouchers was merely a suggestion about what seems fair. It wasn’t a statement of policy or of how they’d rule on any given complaint. (HT: Tyler K.)
“The statement on vouchers suggests what could be an appropriate approach in extraordinary circumstances, but doesn’t affect airlines’ obligations or passengers’ rights,” the agency said in the FAQ section of its website.
“Some airline tariffs might not provide for a refund and others might include force majeure exceptions to refund provisions.”
The CTA further notes that travellers who are denied a refund can file a complaint — a word left out of the regulator’s original statement on vouchers.
A fair read of the Contracts of Carriage for WestJet and Air Canada suggest that cancellations outside of those airlines’ control entitle the passenger to a refund. And past Canadian government decisions have been clear that refunds are due when flight cancellations are outside the airline’s control. The airline needing the money wouldn’t give the carrier the right to a customer’s money for services that haven’t been provided under these precedents.
Some airlines have offered vouchers worth more than the amount of the ticket to entice customers to choose the voucher rather than the refund. That’s a better (voluntary) approach for airlines to take.
The things to watch out for are that you need to be confident that you will use it within the timeframe allotted. That means you will be able to travel based on your health and financial circumstances. It means that the airline will be able to take you where you want to go, based on its own financial health (will still be in business) and service patterns (will still serve your city).
An airline might go bankrupt. It might stop service to your city. It may not have the lowest fare or best schedule when you go to book later, but you’re forced to fly them anyway to use the voucher. You might lose a job, lose your health, and need the cash versus airline scrip. Or you may simply prefer to travel somewhere else that the airline offering the voucher isn’t best situated for.
As a result I like vouchers if you’re financially secure (can spare the cash), not worried about health getting in the way, and they’re being issued by one of the largest airlines – that’s also the largest airline in your home city.