U.S. airlines have all found religion on customer refunds. United and JetBlue especially tried holding onto customer money when cancelling flights, but the Department of Transportation made clear that is a violation of U.S. law.
Customers up north in Canada have had a much tougher time. I’ve written about how Air Canada has been a flagrant violator of the basic principle that if a merchant doesn’t provide the service they’ve been contracted for, they can’t keep a customer’s money.
Air Canada has been keeping customer money when cancelling flights, and even told the U.S. Department of Transportation to go pound sand over the issue (although a couple of readers have obtained refunds after filing DOT complaints).
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. It seemed like a fair result to them, but didn’t mean customers weren’t entitled to refunds.
Still, Canada’s WestJet – which is a joint venture partner with Delta – claims this Canadian Transportation Agency opinion as justification for refusing to refund customers even as they are pulling out of Eastern Canada almost in its entirety on mere weeks’ notice. They are offering vouchers to customer, and refusing refunds, even when they will not serve a customer’s region of the country any longer.
WestJet is eliminating 100 flights, or 80% of their service to Atlantic Canada effective November 2 and dropping Moncton, Fredericton, Sydney, Charlottetown and Quebec City as well as significantly scaling back their presence in St. John’s and Halifax.
The moves mean that the entirety of WestJet’s service to Atlantic Canada will now be based out of Halifax, with daily flights to Toronto, Calgary and St. John’s at least once a day. This time last year, the airline flew 28 different flight routes across the region. As of next month, they will have just three. Except for the Halifax to St. John’s flight, no other Canadian city east of Montreal will have a WestJet flight coming in or out of it for the foreseeable future.
Copyright: dennizn / 123RF Stock Photo
WestJet says customers will get travel credits, and since it may be years before they return to a customer’s city they “will extend the travel credit expiry date” beyond 24 months. WestJet may never return to some cities, may never return with service that works for a customer, and years into the future the name of the game is breakage. Indeed, customers may actually die while waiting to use their WestJet credits.
Yet the airline “notes the Canadian Transportation Agency has deemed acceptable given the realities of COVID-19” to offer flight credits and not refunds. Perhaps this brazen move will challenge that earlier guidance.