Airlines push back on refund requirements for inbound passengers

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From September 8, airlines will have to refund or rebook passengers for delays and cancellations, even when the issue is beyond their control, such as weather.

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OTTAWA — Canadian airlines say new rules requiring them to refund or rebook passengers, even when delays and cancellations are beyond their control, are unfair, especially as the industry struggles.

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The Liberal Bill of Air Travel Rights came into force in 2019, requiring airlines to rebook or refund passengers when a flight is canceled or excessively delayed due to circumstances an airline can control, such as flights oversold.

But from September 8, airlines will have to reimburse or rebook passengers for delays and cancellations, even when the issue is not beyond their control, such as weather. The rules will require them to rebook passengers on a new flight within 48 hours of the original flight or they will have to offer the passenger a full refund.

Jeff Morrison, president and CEO of the National Airlines Council of Canada, said this puts all the pressure on airlines at a time when their entire industry is facing challenges.

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“Airlines will essentially be required to take full responsibility for flight disruptions, despite the fact that so many other partners and stakeholders are involved in the air travel experience,” he said.

Canadians who took to the skies this summer faced ongoing pandemic restrictions, security delays and customs issues upon returning from overseas. Morrison said it was not fair, while these problems persist, that only the airlines should put money on the table.

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WestJet spokeswoman Madison Kruger echoed Morrison’s comments and said government agencies like the Canadian Air Transport Security Authority and the Canada Border Services Agency, as well as airports and other parts of the system should all be involved.

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“We are disappointed that airlines continue to be designated as the single point of ownership and responsibility for travel in Canada, as this must be a shared responsibility across the entire ecosystem,” she said. in an email. “Requiring airlines to be the sole provider of reimbursement for delays beyond their control creates an unbalanced system that does not reflect the responsibility we collectively bear to the Canadian traveler.

Morrison said the industry is also concerned about ongoing pandemic restrictions, including mandatory use of the ArriveCAN app. He suggested that new repayment obligations should be delayed at least until pandemic restrictions are no longer in place.

“These new regulations come at a time when some 60 countries around the world have completely removed pandemic restrictions. We always face them, so that’s another concern.

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Morrison stressed that airlines are doing everything possible to avoid delays and cancellations.

“We want to see them as sort of a last resort and making sure everyone gets to where they need to go.”

Airlines can challenge potential refunds and even under current rules passengers have complained that airlines have said issues such as crew shortages are beyond their control. Passengers can appeal such denials to the Canadian Transportation Agency, which recently warned airlines that they must provide clear evidence if they claim a crew shortage is beyond their control.

The new refund obligations were added to the rules in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic when airlines canceled hundreds of flights and offered few refunds until the government provided massive financial relief.

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Data the government released on Thursday shows an improvement in the system. During the week of August 1-7, 97% of flights were not canceled and 85% of flights from the country’s largest airports departed on time, up from 75% in the first week of July.

At the height of the delays, passengers returning from overseas were often held up on the tarmac because the customs hall at Toronto Pearson was too full. This came to 19 planes in the last week of July, compared to 373 in the last week of May.

Security screening is also improving, with 88% of passengers clearing this hurdle within 15 minutes.

Transport Minister Omar Alghabra was unavailable for an interview on Friday, but his office released a statement and said airlines must follow rules, including new refund obligations.

“Airlines must follow the rules set out by the CTA as they have an obligation to ensure that their operations respect the rights of passengers.”

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