After the US DOT said in April that COVID-19 was not a valid excuse to steal money from your customers and then said in May that changing the rules for previously purchased tickets was an unfair and deceptive practice, most airlines around the world came into compliance.
Some, like El Al, only refunded money to passengers that complained about them to the DoT, while others like United decided to revert their policies back to what they were and offer refunds to everyone who asked.
And then there’s the crooks to our north, also known as Air Canada. The Canadian government has long limited outside competition to Canada to protect their flag carrier. Emirates, Etihad, and Qatar have long been frustrated by Canada’s protectionist policies.
But make no mistake, Canada isn’t protecting Canadians, they’re protecting Air Canada. Protectionist policies raise prices. But worse than that, the Canada Transportation Agency ruled that Canadian airlines did not have to refund passengers holding tickets on flights that Air Canada cancelled. No other transportation agency in the world decided to shaft consumers like that. That’s money out of Canadian citizens pockets when many need it the most.
But what about people with US flights?
The US, Europe, Israel, and other aviation regions have consumer protection aviation rules that apply to any airlines flying there.
In May, Air Canada wrote to people who filed DOT complaints that they are in compliance with US law, without explaining how they are in compliance.
Now, Air Canada has issued this response to a formal US DOT complaint from a Canadian citizen that was flying from Montreal to Chicago.
In it, they admit that they used to provide refunds for cancelled flights, but that they did so out of goodwill, not because their contract of carriage required them to do so. As of March 19th they removed their goodwill policy, so they didn’t actually change the official policy after the ticket purchase.
Air Canada says that as the purchaser lives in Bermuda and bought his ticket in Canadian dollars, that this case is beyond the DOT’s purview and rules. In essence they say that they are in compliance with Canadian rules, so the DOT should mind their own business and stay south of the border.
But Air Canada’s biggest claim is that the DOT’s COVID-19 guidance and enforcement notice aren’t actually enforceable, as it’s only guidance and not actual law.
If the DOT lets Air Canada get away with this, it may create a precedent that non-US airlines don’t need to abide by DOT rules. It may also have an effect on airlines around the world complying with local regulations.
If you’re stuck with a cancelled Air Canada flight, you should file a DOT complaint, just don’t expect positive results. You can still file a credit card dispute and you can take Air Canada to small claims court.
But going forward, know that if Air Canada cancels your flight that they will just keep your money. It’s the same reason I’ve heard from many travel agents that are now refusing to book their clients on El Al. Be sure to let companies behaving badly know that there are consequences for their actions. Vote with your wallet and give your business to airlines that are honest and will provide a refund if they cancel your flight.
Do you think the DOT will stand up to Air Canada with enforcement action or will they allow them to refuse refunds on cancelled flights?