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Regulator backs away from statement on flight refunds, saying it's not 'binding'
Published Thursday, April 23, 2020 2:39PM EDT
Passengers wear mandatory face masks as they wait to go through security at Trudeau Airport Wednesday, April 22, 2020 in Montreal. (THE CANADIAN PRESS / Ryan Remiorz)
The Canadian Transportation Agency is backing away from an earlier statement on flight vouchers, saying its initial position on airlines' right to issue travel credits instead of a refund for cancelled trips is "not a binding decision."
The latest statement could open the door to more refunds from carriers which have cited the agency's stance in denying passenger requests to get back cash for services not rendered.
Late last month, the regulator said the passenger rights charter does not oblige airlines to refund customers for flights cancelled due to the COVID-19 pandemic. A post Tuesday from the agency reiterates that position, but also stresses customers' right to demand a refund based on the "tariff" -- the contract between passenger and carrier.
"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.
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The clarification comes in response to "a number of questions" about vouchers, the agency said.
It also comes less than one week after the Air Passenger Rights advocacy group launched a legal action in the Federal Court of Appeal seeking to have the voucher statement removed from CTA's website.
Gabor Lukacs, who heads the group, says the follow-up post amounts to a "backtrack" but that the statement remains "misleading" by not spelling out passenger rights based on precedent.
In a telephone interview, he compared the statement to "an NHL referee picking up a stick and scoring for one of the teams -- that referee has to be taken off the ice" or not handle refund complaints.
The agency's qualification also follows a class action lawsuit claiming airlines have unfairly denied customer refunds as well as a pair of petitions touting more than 50,000 signatures that call on Ottawa to place Canadians' rights above those of carriers and to refuse financial relief to any airline that does not reimburse travellers.
The transportation authority says vouchers valid for two years can offer a "reasonable approach" during a crisis that could end up leaving passengers out of pocket, a risk "exacerbated by the liquidity challenges faced by airlines" as travel plummets.
"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 agency said.
This report by The Canadian Press was first published April 23, 2020.