Coronavirus: Airlines obliged to offer credit, not refunds, watchdog says

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Jacqui Birchall is hoping for a full refund from WestJet after it cancelled her flight from Puerto Vallarta to Vancouver as part of its major capacity reduction in response to the COVID-19 pandemic.

“WestJet is refusing a refund and they’re giving WestJet dollars instead … so you have to rebook with WestJet,” said Birchall, a retired teacher who spends half the year in Mexico.

The store-credit policy, typical of Canadian airlines over the past month as border closures and plummeting travel demand prompt carriers to cancel routes en masse, has sparked frustration among travellers stranded abroad or stuck at home.

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Now, a statement on the Canadian Transportation Agency website says airlines are not required to refund passengers for flights cancelled due to the novel coronavirus or other reasons outside an airline’s control.

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Current rules “only require that the airline ensure passengers can complete their itineraries,” the posting from Wednesday states. “Some airlines’ tariffs provide for refunds in certain cases, but may have clauses that airlines believe relieve them of such obligations in force majeure situations.”

1:40Coronavirus outbreak: Tourists stranded in airport after borders closed

Coronavirus outbreak: Tourists stranded in airport after borders closed

Several decisions by the transportation agency itself appear to contravene the statement, with at least three rulings in the past seven years affirming air travellers’ right to a refund regardless of whether a flight cancellation is beyond the airline’s control,

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