I thought this had been settled some time ago, but in Canada, the war continues. After airlines started playing games during the pandemic, the Department of Transportation (DOT) told airlines if they couldn’t deliver something close to what the traveler purchased, they had to give a refund. This message is apparently still sitting in customs in Canada, because the Canadian airlines didn’t get the memo. Canadian carriers have continued to refuse any refunds due to schedule changes, and they’ve even told DOT that’s their stance. Today, we rip into Air Canada, an airline that has unquestionably earned the Cranky Jackass Award for blatantly ignoring the rules.
Though most people who are angry with airlines file their complaints directly with DOT’s Air Consumer website, some have taken to filing dockets that the public can see, and the complaints against Air Canada have been piling up. Air Canada’s initial responses were regarding people who lived and purchased tickets outside of the US even if travel involved the US. Air Canada used the fact that these people were outside the US to say DOT rules shouldn’t apply. (Spoiler alert: that’s not true.) But I waited until we had an American get denied by Air Canada before writing this post. I figured it would make Air Canada’s unreasonable position harder to justify. And now, I present to you the case of Naomi Horovitz.
In the complaint which Naomi filed in the docket on June 5, she tells a familiar tale. On March 5, she bought three tickets on Air Canada. One was for herself roundtrip from Chicago to Vancouver. The others were for her husband and daughter from Phoenix to Vancouver and back to Chicago. Travel was to begin on May 23. On April 2, Air Canada canceled her flight, and she asked for a refund. Air Canada said no, so she filed this complaint.
After asking for an extension to gather its thoughts, Air Canada came roaring back on July 6. The airline says the complaint should be dismissed outright by DOT, and it gave three reasons that should happen.
- Air Canada says its refusal to refund complies with its Conditions of Carriage, its International Tariff, fare rules, and regulations in Canada.
- Air Canada says that DOT’s enforcement document on refunds was just a “guidance” document and does not “have the effect of law.”
- Air Canada says its refund policy (or no-refund policy) is not deceptive nor unfair under DOT rules.
That is quite the argument, and it’s hard to believe that this was what the airline actually put forth.
Air Canada puts a great deal of weight into the fact that this cancellation was out of its control, and that seems fair. It didn’t create the pandemic, and the drop in demand certainly was beyond its control. But then it stretches this too far. Air Canada says it was “forced” to cancel flights so it could focus on repatriation, but that’s not true. It seems highly unlikely that it couldn’t have put some aircraft on the Chicago to Vancouver route that day. It just knew that there was no demand, so it canceled. And since it couldn’t even offer a reasonable alternative, you’d think it would have to give the money back.
Instead, Air Canada says that it was because of this focus on repatriation that it had to scale back its so-called “goodwill” policies. And then suggests that it was just an incredibly benevolent company that had no choice.
Certain customers with reservations for flights that were cancelled due to events outside of Air Canada’s control (including COVID-19) before March 19, 2020 may, as a goodwill gesture, have generously been offered a refund despite having booked reservations at a non-refundable fare.
Air Canada says this was never required, but it was doing it out of the kindness of its maple syrup-filled heart. It seems absurd to suggest that an airline can publish a policy and then renege on it. In fact, some might say it’s deceptive since this was changed to deny to refunds on changes after March 19 regardless of when the ticket was purchased.
Not only does Air Canada dispute that, but it includes a veiled threat in its response.
Determining that later scaling back on these goodwill policies constitutes an unfair or deceptive practice would interfere with carriers’ valid contracts, and would disincentivize carriers from ever providing customers more than the very minimum level of flexibility guaranteed in their Conditions of Carriage.
In other words, if you make us do things that we said we’re going to do, we’re never going to do them unless they are in the barebones requirements of the contract of carriage. Or in summary, “Don’t push us, DOT, or you’ll regret it.”
Air Canada then uses the time-honored tradition of citing mom when dad won’t cooperate. In effect, it says that Canada says it’s ok, so the US should just abide by that.
It’s hard to fathom how this whole thing isn’t unfair and deceptive, as Air Canada claims. Air Canada had publicly published a policy saying it would give refunds for major schedule changes. That was in place when the ticket was bought, and so it seems fair to assume travelers would expect that to apply.
United tried the same thing when it switched its schedule change rules midstream, and DOT told them they couldn’t do it. Now United is back to where it was previously. Air Canada,however, thinks since it isn’t a US-based airline it can get away with completely ignoring DOT rules.
The reality should be pretty simple, but Air Canada is pulling out every trick in the book to refuse a refund. It’s painful to watch, and for this, Air Canada most certainly deserves the Cranky Jackass Award.