Stung by criticism over its COVID policies, airline introduces two new options for people whose flights are cancelled
In a bid to stem growing public outrage over its refund policies, Air Canada will loosen restrictions for people whose flights are cancelled due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
“In addition to our regular goodwill policies,” said Air Canada Chief Commercial Officer Lucie Guillemette in a statement, “starting June 1 we will offer customers the choice of a travel voucher with no expiry date that is fully transferable or to convert their booking into Aeroplan Miles and get an additional 65% bonus miles.”
Up to now, Air Canada has been offering travel credits that expire in 24 months for cancelled flights, unless passengers paid a premium to buy a refundable ticket. Affected travellers, consumer groups, and at least two class-action lawsuits are demanding the airline refund tickets for travel they can’t complete.
The airline said its revised “goodwill policy” was retroactive to cover cancelled flights from March 1.
Air Canada is not alone facing the pressure. Westjet and Air Transat adopted similar positions in the face of what an Air Transat Vice President called a “force majeure” situation, out of the airline’s control.
“We booked a flight through Air Transat in June 2019 to depart April 17, 2020 to Italy and then to Malta a week later,” said Rita Balzan in an email to Western Aviation News. “Not only did we book our flight but also a five star hotel totalling over $8000. All we are getting is a run around from my travel agent along with the flight insurance we had.”
She is hoping to join the class action against Air Transat.
“It is very stressful,” she wrote.
Canada’s Minister of Transport, Marc Garneau, said last week that while he could understand passenger frustration, the vouchers were a way to keep the airlines afloat during an unprecedented crisis.
Air Canada’s new policy came as the airline released a revised summer schedule that predicts Canadians will start to fly again in the coming months, though nowhere near at the levels they travelled in the past.
The airline said it will serve 97 destinations this summer, down from 220 last summer. The airline will gradually add routes in June with more to come in August and September.
“As we emerge from the COVID-19 pandemic, during which as much as 95 per cent of our flights stopped operating and which has left us flying to less than half last year’s destinations, our customers are expressing their eagerness to travel, where it is safe to do so,” said Guillemette. “We are accordingly gradually opening for sale flights for the summer and beyond as we rebuild our network, leveraging our strong position as a global airline.”
Even with that slight uptick in flying, Air Canada’s flight attendants expect widespread layoffs.
“The Company is expecting to need 5,600 fewer active mainline cabin personnel,” read a post Friday from the union representing flight attendants. “This is on top of the 1,500 Rouge members who will all be placed on layoff status for the June block month. There is no scheduled Rouge flying for June 2020.”
Air Canada also announced Friday it would deploy its small fleet of all business-class Jetz Airbus A319 aircraft to limited runs between Toronto, Montreal, and Ottawa. The planes are normally chartered by sports teams as they travel across the continent.
The airline plans to return to the United States starting this weekend, despite an ongoing border closure to all but essential travel. Air Canada suspended flights to the U.S. a month ago and will return to six cities by Monday.
With border restrictions set to expire in a month, Air Canada – which built a profitable business ferrying passengers between Europe and the United States through its Canadian hubs – hopes to expand transborder service in late June.
The Airline also plans to open additional European destinations in June and early July, along with the return of flights from Vancouver to Shanghai, subject to government approval.
These are tentative signs of recovery in Canada’s aviation market, which has been hammered by the pandemic. Both of Canada’s major domestic carriers have slashed their schedules and suspended routes, while several charter carriers and regional airlines have suspended service altogether and are only now starting to reopen.
It also reflects a growing consensus that air travel will not fully recover to its heights of 2018 and 2019 for three years or more.
Chorus Aviation, which flies the bulk of regional services for Air Canada, expects local and regional routes to recover first, followed by national service and finally intercontinental routes.
All of it, of course, is dependent on the pandemic’s evolution and government policies to control its spread.