Flight re­fund ad­vo­cates go to top court

Times Colonist - - Business - CHRISTO­PHER REYNOLDS

An ad­vo­cacy group is ask­ing the Supreme Court of Canada to hear a case on pas­sen­ger re­funds as frus­tra­tion over flights can­celled due to the COVID-19 pan­demic con­tin­ues to sim­mer.

The Air Pas­sen­ger Rights or­ga­ni­za­tion sought leave to ap­peal Mon­day a Fed­eral Court of Ap­peal de­ci­sion that dis­missed the group’s at­tempt for an in­junc­tion com­pelling the Cana­dian Trans­porta­tion Agency to re­move a post about re­funds from its web­site tem­po­rar­ily while a broader case about the state­ment’s va­lid­ity is on­go­ing.

The CTA said in March that air­lines have the right to is­sue travel cred­its in­stead of a re­fund for can­celled trips in the “cur­rent con­text,” though the agency later clar­i­fied that the online state­ment was “not a bind­ing de­ci­sion.”

Cana­dian air­lines have gen­er­ally of­fered credit valid for two years or more but avoided of­fer­ing re­im­burse­ment to cus­tomers whose flights were called off be­cause of the coro­n­avirus cri­sis, with car­ri­ers cit­ing the agency’s stance in re­sponse to con­sumer com­plaints and an­a­lyst ques­tions.

Air Pas­sen­ger Rights founder Ga­bor Lukacs says the CTA’s state­ments misled trav­ellers about their right to a re­fund and con­tra­dict the quasi-ju­di­cial body’s pre­vi­ous de­ci­sions.

“If peo­ple be­lieve they have no right to a re­fund, they will just not pur­sue it,” he said.

“This case is about whether a pub­lic body can mis­lead the pub­lic with­out fac­ing some kind of ju­di­cial scru­tiny.”

Some pas­sen­gers may not be able to fly in the next two years for health or fi­nan­cial rea­sons, ad­vo­cates say. Mean­while, the air­fare they paid amounts to a noin­t­er­est loan to air­lines.

The pan­demic has dev­as­tated the air­line in­dus­try, with bil­lions of dol­lars in losses for Cana­dian car­ri­ers amid grounded flights and tight internatio­nal bor­ders.

The Euro­pean Com­mis­sion and the U.S. De­part­ment of Trans­porta­tion have re­quired air­lines to re­fund pas­sen­gers. The U.S. and Euro­pean coun­tries in­clud­ing France and Ger­many have also of­fered bil­lions in fi­nan­cial re­lief to strug­gling car­ri­ers, how­ever, while Ot­tawa has pro­vided no in­dus­tryspe­cific bailout to air­lines.

Since Fe­bru­ary, pas­sen­gers have filed a hand­ful of pro­posed class-ac­tion law­suits and three pe­ti­tions gar­ner­ing more than 109,000 sig­na­tures that call for cus­tomer re­im­burse­ment.

The CTA did not re­spond to re­quests for com­ment.

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