It’s Time To Sue Air Canada

Air Canada has the second most generous ticket change policy in the world right now, which is important to give customers who are willing to travel the confidence to buy. Things are changing rapidly that people are holding off making purchases even when they’d be willing to take a flight.

One thing Air Canada isn’t doing, though, if providing refunds when they cancel flights.

Nonetheless this is what Air Canada says on their website: no refunds for cancelled flights.

If you purchased a non-refundable fare, please note that in accordance with government regulations, non-refundable bookings that are cancelled due to the impacts of COVID-19, government travel advisories and/or health and safety concerns are outside of Air Canada’s control and ineligible for a refund.

The U.S. Department of Transportation has been clear that continuing to take this position means they will not offer leeway from fines and also that you’re entitled to a refund not only when the airline cancels your flight but in the event of a significant schedule change also. What’s more an airline cannot change its refund policies after a ticket has been purchased, new policies can only apply prospectively to new ticket purchases.

When Air Canada denies you a refund for tickets that involve travel to or from the U>S. you should do three things,

  1. File a credit card chargeback. The airline is not entitled to keep money for services they did not provide.

  2. File a DOT complaint. It is black letter law in the U.S. that when an airline cancels a flight regardless of reason the airline must provide the option of a refund.

  3. Sue in small claims court. As a general matter you can sue in any city served by Air Canada (and if you live somewhere else, file there first, let them argue jurisdiction when you purchased the ticket from them where you live). Come armed with a printout from the DOT website and with enforcement notices from the Department of Transportation. Let Air Canada argue that foreign law – which the Canadian Transportation Authority doesn’t even conclude sides with the airline – supercedes on tickets sold to U.S. customers for travel to or from the U.S.

What you need to be able to prove is that Air Canada cancelled your flight. That entitles you to a refund. If you chose not to travel, or cancelled before the airline dumped your flights from the schedule, that doesn’t mean you should be refunded. Bring proof of the cancellation.

And then bring DOT’s policy on cancellations.

A passenger is entitled to a refund if the airline cancelled a flight, regardless of the reason, and the passenger chooses not to travel.

Also take a copy of the Department of Transportation enforcement notice. They explain that circumstances surrounding COVID-19 explicitly do not absolve the airline of its refund obligations.

The longstanding obligation of carriers to provide refunds for flights that carriers cancel or significantly delay does not cease when the flight disruptions are outside of the carrier’s control (e.g., a result of government restrictions).2 The focus is not on whether the flight disruptions are within or outside the carrier’s control, but rather on the fact that the cancellation is through no fault of the passenger.

Finally, bring this clear statement that an airline cannot apply new rules put into place after you purchased your ticket to deny a refund. The change in procedure post-COVID 19 doesn’t apply if you bought your tickets before the procedure was put into place.

The Department interprets the statutory prohibition against unfair or deceptive practices to cover actions by airlines and ticket agents applying changes retroactively to their refund policies that affect consumers negatively. The refund policy in place at the time the passenger purchased the ticket is the policy that is applicable to that ticket. The Aviation Enforcement Office would consider the denial of refunds in contravention of the policies that were in effect at the time of the ticket purchase to be an unfair and deceptive practice.

Air Canada honored refunds for cancelled tickets before the pandemic. So if you bought your tickets before the pandemic, they still have to honor a refund if they’ve cancelled your flight. Citations to the relevant laws and regulations are included in the linked DOT notices.

In general I don’t like suing, but the cost for small claims court is low. You’ll still have to enforce a judgment, but the prospect of taking out a lien on the Aeroplan program seems kind of fun.

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 InsideFlyer.com, 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 »

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  1. Dont feel bad Americans, they not only ignore US laws, they are doing the same with EU laws.
    For some reason they are refunding tickets to TLV and ALG, and are choosing to comply with those laws. So clearly there needs to be more pressure by DOT and EU.

    Simply ban AC from US airspace until they refund like DOT requires them to. The only understand this sleazy airline understands is money.

    In the future, stop patronizing this pos airline too, they rely on US traffic to feed their longhaul flights. Stop flying them!

  2. How timely is this story. My lessons so far include:
    1) Do not purchase tickets from a third party, as you will be in the middle between the carrier and broker, each one pointing their finger at the other.
    2) Do not use a debit card, as you have no luck with a credit card chargeback, despite you would have not been able to make the purchase without the funds in the bank.

    As I have expressed here earlier, it’s high time for the U.S. Senate to lean on DOT/FAA to give the foreign carriers a choice: to immediately refund tickets in cash (not vouchers), or, to default and lose their U.S. landing rights. Perhaps it would also be helpful if DOT/FAA to lean on the U.S. carriers to require their code share foreign carriers to respect our laws, or, to lose the code share.

  3. @ Gary — If they cancel my August travel, you better believe I will be suing as needed. I look forward to it.

  4. It was several weeks ago, but I did get a refund from AC for a flight originating in the USA. It was purchased through Expedia. I called Expedia and asked for a refund. They called AC. AC offered a voucher. I told the Expedia agent that wasn’t acceptable to me, and to demand a refund from AC because that’s what the law required. I told him to speaking to a AC supervisor if necessary. He did so, and a refund was offered. Expedia processed it and I got my money back. Bottomline, before doing something as time consuming as “suing,” I would be very firm with AC. It should work, unless they’re really going to simply break the law.

  5. Yeah. Took a $400 no expiry credit for a cancelled flight. All finished. One hour of my time. Good grief. Sue? Enjoy!

  6. Given that AC vouchers are now transferable, we should set up a list of people who have AC (or other airlines’) vouchers so that those of us who want to buy AC tickets can help the voucher-holders use ’em up, then reimburse via PayPal, Venmo, etc.

  7. On a somewhat different but related scenario, are there any explicit protections in place when it comes refunds due to hotels cancelling reservations stemming from a complete closure, specifically with 3rd party booking sites that may otherwise have fees for cancelling a refundable/cancel able reservation? Covid-19 is the most current and obvious example but this could also be the scenario if a property were closed for renovations and the opening was delayed, and thus couldn’t accommodate the stated booking. Can OTA’s hold back these administration/cancellation fees even if it was the hotel that cancelled the reservation, not the guest? Appreciate any insights.

  8. Under no circumstances should AC ever be trusted to deliver on any promises or regulations either implicit or stated. As an American in Canada, this company can be fairly described as the worst to deal with in the entire country and a den of thieves. Never book with a debit card or expect any assistance of any kind in IRROPS. Think of a used car dealer or bad phone/internet/cable provider as an equivalent and be suitably aware. Never trust anything told to you by their website or employees in good faith or at face value. Any interaction is to be completed with suspicion and a sense of caution. In short -avoid. Hitchhiking, Via Rail, rental cars, Westjet and walking are all far more cost certain and above board than any interaction

  9. Air Canada has just been horrible refusing to refund money for flights which were cancelled by them despite several attempts. They claim the DOT rules don’t apply to foreign carriers so they can only give vouchers. I have put in a refund claim 6 weeks ago and even escalated the issue to executive contacts but no success. Gary, do you have any suggestions? Atleast Virgin and United have agreed to provide refunds albeit at a slower schedule.

  10. 2.5 billion dollars of clients money. Paid for with credit cards at 20 per cent interest. Clever way to finance a company, but now the bell tolls. One way ot the other the public will finance this operation. Better to get your cash back now, and ketbthe government bail them out.

  11. “steve says:
    May 23, 2020 at 4:53 pm
    Yeah. Took a $400 no expiry credit for a cancelled flight. All finished. One hour of my time. Good grief. Sue? Enjoy!”

    And when you go to book that flight next year that you got a 400 dollar credit for that is now 700 dollars, you will be right ticked off.

  12. One segment of my flight with Air Canada was cancelled. I filed complaints with AC, DOT, and did a credit card dispute but just got a credit card refill. AC is refusing to refund and only offering a travel voucher. It doesn’t seem that they will budge. I am concerned about the cost to sue.

  13. From a Canadian traveller…if you are in the US and affected, do all of these things. Plus, contact your federal representative, and push the matter. I would love nothing more than to see Air Canada get spanked by the DOT. Slots.Take them all until Air Canada complies immediately with DOT regs. All they care about right now is money, so hit them where it hurts the most.

  14. Note that the statement by CTA was not legally binding.

    They created confusion by saying:
    The Statement on Vouchers, although not a binding decision, offers suggestions to airlines and passengers in the context of a once-in-a-century pandemic, global collapse of air travel, and mass cancellation of flights for reasons outside the control of airlines.

    The airlines jumped on it and started citing it as law when it wasnt law and not over-riding regulations in place.
    They had to retract it after a court order initiated by Air Passenger Rights group.

  15. People I do hear your disappointment and frustrations but it seems you are only pointing fingers at one airline Air Canada what about Westjet or air transat are they refunding you’re non refundable tickets??? Or even the US carriers United , Delta, or Europe like British Airways they have been told to refund tickets but to date they are refusing to do so… I know it does not make it right but to be Fair to Air Canada your article should include all airlines

  16. I booked flights to Rome Italy through Expediawhich AC cancelled. My notification from AC went so far as to congratulate me stating I was eligible for a travel voucher and I need to do nothing just sit back and enjoy. I will fight this to the end if I have to. Do not bail these idiots out until they refund passengers money many of whom are suffering job losses and difficulties paying bills putting food on the table the list is endless.

  17. Air Canada is despicable, however, I can confirm from personal experience that I have had the exact same issue with several WestJet tickets – so don’t be fooled into believing that WS complies with the law. It is just as much a lawbreaker. And as for buying tickets from an OTA, why was AA able to process refunds for me whereas WestJet and Air Canada insist they cannot take control of a ticket issued by a travel agent ?

  18. The flights I supposed to take on June 23 have been canceled. Air Canada offered two choices which would be changed date or canceled travel . I only got travel Voucher being used before January 11,2022 instead of refunding over 2300 canadian dollars which I paid for the tickets. It really makes me feel someone overrides the law to freeze or rob my money . I don’t know how the customer can be fairly protected ?

  19. Robert, European airlines are slowly refunding and are in a different place than Air Canada and Canadian airlines, where if the voucher is not spent within a certain period, a refund is mandated. Air Canada keep banging on about other major airlines having the same voucher policies as Canadian airlines but is being increasingly isolated internationally with its no refund policy when no service delivered. If I paid upfront for a sofa and the shop could not deliver, but kept my money, put prices up and then the firm went belly up and I lost all my money, why is this acceptable in Canada ? The EU and US regulators, will hopefully sanction Canadian airlines and ban them for breaking our laws. In any case, who would choose to fly with a Canadian airline when there is no passenger protection for money paid ?Give us our money back.

  20. I’d like the industry to die off. The corporate boards of carriers should be given the death penalty if their actions lead to increased deaths.

  21. My husband and I live in Ontario Canada. We bought expensive tickets through CAA. We were taking my moms ashes to Santa Barbara. I have lupus and my oldest sister said we need to cancel our flights. I was told we would be able to get a voucher for up to a year. But that was untrue. AC isn’t honoring and vouchers. My credit card company won’t return my funds because I don’t have cancelation on it. All I can say is AirCanada, no matter is your an American, Canadian or dual citizenship as my husband and I, they are dirty sinking RATS.

  22. Even with insurance on your credit card you won’t get anywhere as you have to accept the terms and conditions of the supplier which is Air Canada. Insurance is a scam they are out for profit only. Air Canada just as bad. Unfortunately they are Canada’s flagship airline and will be bailed out before refunding customers hard earned income. Disgusting hardly covers it.

  23. Our Prime minister Trudeau has the power to enforce the laws and to order to airlines to become compliant. But he doesn’t do anything because airlines airlines and Federal Gouvernement are in bed together… I was supposed to fly in FLL last Sunday, but AC « has chosen » to cancel the flight. Their excuse? « Gouvernment prohibitions »… so how come AA still fly between USA and Canada even though the border is closed for non essential travel(ers), not carriers! I really want the DOT to suspend the license of canadian airlines until they give a full refund to the original form of payment. Meanwhile, I acknowledge the work of all journalists who comment this issue and make as much pressure as possible to the Federal government and airlines themselves.

  24. We had non-stop flights booked on Delta and Air Canada that were both changed to connecting itineraries (Air Canada’s delay being longer than Delta’s). Delta refunded our money with no hassle while Air Canada has refused. An Air Canada representative admitted their refund policy was changed 3-19-20 (one month after I bought our tickets) and that before the change I would have been entitled to a refund due to a > 2 hour delay in arrival. If I sue them, how do I prove what policy was in place when I purchased the flight? Does this matter anyway since the non-stop was changed to a connecting flight with new flight numbers (and so cancelled)?

  25. Update: I called Travelocity (who I booked the Air Canada flight through) and insisted they speak to an Air Canada supervisor. I referenced the DOT April 3rd clarification that COVID-19 does not release airlines from their contractual agreements at the time of purchase. The Travelocity representative understood but the Air Canada supervisor would not budge and would only offer a flight credit per their March 19th 2020 policy change. I now plan to try small claims court.

  26. I had some good luck with Air Canada refunds by skipping AC and working through Chase’s travel services. I know it only worked because I had paid with Chase UR points. Regardless, I’m going to count this as a win.

  27. My brother has been trying to get out of China to return back home to Canada for some time now as have many other Canadians. Mark had booked a flight directly with Air Canada by speaking with an Air Canada agent on the phone only to find out a few days before the flight that Air Canada had canceled the flight but here’s the kicker, there has been an exit ban in China imposed by the Chinese government for quite some time since the pandemic was announced earlier in the year. Air Canada was fully aware that they could neither fly in or out of China but they sold the ticket to my brother anyway knowing that there were no flights available, even though the Air Canada website advertises the flights as being available. When my brother found out the flight had been canceled he contacted the airline and asked for a refund which they refused to provide, but was more than happy to provide a voucher for any future travel. This appears to be outright fraud and when my brother contacted the Canadian consulate in China for assistance with this matter he was told there was nothing they could do for him. He is still stranded there along with many other Canadian and US citizens.

  28. AMEX initially refunded me, but somehow I lost the dispute.

    They have an additional 10 days to answer the US DOT.

    Does anyone know the address of their registered agent to serve them in the United States?

  29. It would be great to hear anyone provide input in how to sue Air Canada in small claims. I’m trying to find their local address in Chicago for service of process and haven’t had any luck.

    Much thanks!

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