Airline passengers voice frustrations after WestJet cuts services, refunds with vouchers

From Global News – link to story

By Graeme Benjamin Global News | Posted October 15, 2020

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A day after WestJet announced it’s cutting over 100 flights in Atlantic Canada, passengers say they aren’t being offered a full refund – only travel credits. As Graeme Benjamin reports, passengers say those credits will be of no use if the airline doesn’t return east.

Airline passengers trying to fly to the Maritimes say they aren’t being provided with a full refund after WestJet announced it would be significantly cutting services in the East Coast.

On Wednesday, WestJet announced it would suspending flights to Moncton, Fredericton, Sydney and Charlottetown indefinitely, while “significantly” reducing service to Halifax and St. John’s.

It’s a move airline passengers in the Maritimes say makes sense, given the situation brought about by COVID-19. But what doesn’t make sense to them is how they are being reimbursed.

“I don’t blame them for this decision, but they did take my money, they did take my reservation, and now they have to live with the consequences,” said Emmanuel Maicas, who recently booked a trip to the Dominican Republic.

Maicas says he spent nearly $6,000 on flights for the family trip. He says the travel credits are of no use to him if WestJet isn’t returning to Moncton, where he lives.

“If WestJet does not provide the service to me, well, I want my money back,” he said.

“In my mind, the only thing that will satisfy me is a full refund.”

That’s a similar situation that Megan Hilderpants has found herself in. She’s feeling slighted by WestJet after she and her wife booked flights to Fredericton just a few days before Wednesday’s announcement.

“It kind of seemed like they were already aware like this was unfurling,” said Hilderpants. “It seemed sort of dodgy that they would sell us tickets that soon.”

Hilderpants is also in the process of getting her money back, as Fredericton is the only location she and her partner are considering travelling to.

In a statement, WestJet spokesperson Morgan Bell said the Canadian Transportation Agency has determined that refunds to travel credits is acceptable in light of the situation brought about by COVID-19.”

But passenger rights activist Gábor Lukács says providing vouchers rather than a full refund is unlawful and verging on fraudulent.

“WestJet is breaking the law here by not complying with the fundamental obligation to refund passengers or rebook them,” said Lukács. “As an airline you have an obligation to rebook passengers or flights of other airlines.

“If they choose not to, you have an obligation to refund them in the original form of payment.”

Lukács says WestJet’s decision may be justifiable from a public health perspective, but its vouchers do not follow provincial, federal, nor common law.

“As a general contractual principle, if you make a contract to provide services and you are unable or unwilling to perform the services, the bare minimum you have to do is give back the party the bare minimum they paid,” he said.

As for the airline passengers, they don’t expect their fight with WestJet to end swiftly.

“Give us our money back, would be nice. That would be ideal,” said Hilderpants.

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