Air Canada

Air Canada, Transat face class action lawsuit over COVID policies

An Air Transat Airbus A321 departs Vancouver International Airport in June 2019 (photo: Brett Ballah).

A passenger from Quebec is asking a court to certify a class action lawsuit against Air Canada and Air Transat over policies they brought in to survive the COVID-19 pandemic.

Alain Lachaine of St-Jerome, Quebec alleges he paid $13,036.60 for two tickets to Florida for a holiday with his wife in April. But his plans were upended when the global pandemic hit, governments closed their borders, and airlines cancelled their flights.

Instead of getting his money back, Lachaine alleges Transat offered him a travel credit to be used within two years.

“The refusal by the defendants, Air Transat and Transat Holidays, to fully reimburse the amount paid by Lachaine,” reads the claim, is causing him stress to be reimbursed money “he would like to use to face the current crisis.”

Lachaine wants his money back, plus $250 for the inconvenience, and asking for the ruling to stand for anyone who bought tickets on the two airlines.

The airlines have not filed a statement of defence, though Transat did say the airline is doing what it can as governments close their borders and discourage international travel.

“We have taken extraordinary measures in those extraordinary force majeure circumstances, by allowing our clients to get a credit they can use for 24 months,” said Transat Vice-President of Human Resources and Corporate Affairs, Christophe Hennebelle, in an e-mail. “We are confident that they will be able to travel again in a not-too-remote future, once the crisis is over.”

Air Canada did not respond to a request for comment. It has outlined its 24 month credit policy for non-refundable tickets on its website. “While cancellations that are within an airline’s control can lead to a refund, those cancellations that are caused by COVID-19 are beyond our control. For non-refundable tickets, we are providing a flight credit of equal value for a future ticket purchased within 24 months,” the airline advises.

None of the allegations has been proven in court.

Lachaine is not the only upset passenger.

“Air Canada is profiting from the situation,” said Yassine El Bahlouli on Twitter Saturday. “The company cancelled two tickets this week, including one today the 21st from Casablanca. I will take the necessary steps in Canadian courts against this company’s nonchalance.”

“People had to choose between their money and their health,” said Gabor Lukacs, a Canadian air passenger rights advocate. Since the turmoil caused by COVID-19 in the past week, his Air Passenger Rights (Canada) Facebook page has grown by people wondering how to navigate the world of airline regulations.

“The airlines are doing a massive disinformation campaign,” said Lukacs. “Telling people they are not owed a refund to the original form of payment, while the law is so clear – there are multiple rulings by the Canadian Transportation Agency, there are multiple laws – all this is clearly all there, and then telling people with a straight face, no we’re going to give you a travel voucher, that’s a big problem.”

The Canadian Transportation Agency has suspended new passenger protection regulations that require airlines to compensate passengers in many circumstances until the end of April because of the pandemic. However, Lukacs believes the passengers’ complaints have more to do with unfilled contracts than passenger protections.

“The airlines are cash-strapped, they don’t have the cash to issue the refunds. And if that’s the case, we need to talk about it,” he said. “If the airline says ‘sorry we don’t have the cash’ they should own up to it at the very least.”

The Air Transport Association of Canada warns some airlines will not survive the crisis. Not only are passengers cancelling their trips, the group says, but they’re demanding refunds. Airlines and airports around the world have called for government help to ensure the industry survives the pandemic.