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.
- The Canadian Transportation Agency said they thought vouchers could be a reasonable substitute if the vouchers were flexible enough. However they then had to come back and clarify that this opinion did not affect airline obligations or passenger rights.
- For flights to or from the U.S. this is a violation of U.S. law.
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,
- File a credit card chargeback. The airline is not entitled to keep money for services they did not provide.
- 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.
- 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.