Canada’s Westjet is bowing to mounting regulatory and public pressure and offering refunds on some of its flights cancelled due to the global pandemic.
Some passengers who were booked on flights to the United States and the United Kingdom have begun receiving notices they are eligible to get their money back for cancelled flights, according to a new cancellation policy sent to travel advisors and first reported by Pax News.
“We have now begun processing refunds to original form of payment for guests holding some international itineraries that were cancelled by WestJet due to the COVID-19 crisis,” said Westjet spokesperson Morgan Bell in an email. “Guests with eligible tickets who booked directly with WestJet will have the option of changing their flights, receiving the full value of their flight in Travel Bank or accepting a refund to original form of payment. ”
“We are proactively contacting those guests with eligible flights who have already had their refund processed to Travel Bank to allow them this additional option,” said Bell.
Westjet, Air Canada and others have come under fire for offering vouchers instead of refunds for flights cancelled due to the pandemic. They are facing at least two class action lawsuits. Air Transat, which suspended almost all operations in March, defended its refusal to issue refunds saying the pandemic was a “force majeure” out of its control.
It is telling that Westjet is offering refunds to passengers booked to the U.S. and U.K. In both jurisdictions, regulators have taken a hard line, ordering airlines to refund passengers their ticket price, not offer credits.
“We are aware that some airlines and travel providers are offering vouchers in place of refunds,” reads advice published by Britain’s Civil Aviation Authority. “If your flight has been cancelled, you are entitled to a refund, so if you would rather the financial payment, please request this from your travel provider.”
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In Canada, the Minister of Transport, Marc Garneau, has taken a much more lenient approach, arguing his job is to ensure the airline industry remains viable after the pandemic subsides.
“If airlines had to reimburse all the tickets that have been cancelled, that would have a devastating effect,” he said last week.
“This is the second largest country on Earth, with vast distances and remote areas, and we expect and need an airline industry in this country,” he said. “Trying to maintain that fine balance is what’s important here.”
The issue of refunds continues to dog the airlines and the government, being raised in public comments, news conferences, even the floor of the House of Commons.
In cancelling its Eastern expansion plans this week, ultra low-cost carrier Flair took the opportunity to issue a pointed barb at its much larger competitors. The airline said affected passengers booked on flights to Ottawa, Saint John, and Charlottetown would be getting refunds, “further proof that Flair is a different kind of airline than its larger competitors.”
“WestJet has consistently provided change/cancel options to all guests impacted by the COVID-19 crisis,” said Bell, “including the ability to rebook flights with no change fee, to refund the full value of their flight to a WestJet Travel Bank valid for use within 24 months for bookings made directly with WestJet or to retain their full ticket value for a future flight for bookings made with travel agents.”