Ironic: Air Canada Calls Out WestJet Over Refunds

Filed Under: Air Canada, WestJet

O (Air) Canada…

Canadian airlines have been terrible with refunds

Many airlines around the world have been absolutely awful when it comes to providing passengers with refunds in the event of flight cancelations during the pandemic. It’s at least worth acknowledging that there are two sides to this:

  • On the one hand, if your flight is canceled you absolutely should get a cash refund, and it’s not the consumer’s problem if an airline can’t afford to do this; many consumers are also in a cash crunch in this environment
  • On the other hand, airlines around the globe are in an unprecedented situation, and in many cases airlines simply couldn’t afford to provide cash refunds; several airline executives claimed that their airlines would literally have to liquidate if they were to refund all passengers for canceled flights

Anyway, Canadian airlines have been especially terrible about providing cash refunds, and have been blatantly disregarding government requirements to offer refunds. I know both Air Canada and WestJet have left a lot of customers frustrated.

Canadian airlines haven’t been great with refunds

WestJet finally commits to offering refunds

WestJet CEO Edward Sims wrote a blog post that I’m impressed by. The title of the post is “It’s about time,” and it outlines WestJet’s commitment to now offering cash refunds.

While not providing refunds has been the wrong thing to do, I find Sims’ post to be incredibly classy, as he provides an explanation for why things have been the way they are, without excusing it. Here’s what he wrote, in part:

We understand completely that the title of this blog post is what most Canadians are feeling right now. You’re looking for a refund and we get it. Up until this point, quite plainly, the financial position of airlines around the world has been precarious. Since March, we have done everything we can to reduce costs and streamline our operations as best we could in the face of a 95 per cent drop in demand. We went 72 days in a row where cancellations outstripped bookings, something that has not happened – ever – in our almost 25-year history. Thankfully, we are seeing bookings higher than cancellations now but still at a level that sees more than 140 of the 181 aircraft in our fleet parked and more than 4,000 WestJetters permanently laid off. These are devastating statistics, ones I never thought I would see in my 35-year career in this industry.

It has been incredibly disheartening for anyone working here at one of Canada’s most beloved brands not to be able to demonstrate that we have our guests at the heart of every decision. Love us or hate us right now, we are doing everything we can to make sure we’re around tomorrow, and next year, for you hopefully to, love us once more.

Through the efforts of thousands of WestJetters, we are confident that we can now begin providing refunds proactively. We are the first national airline in Canada to do so.

WestJet will start refunding passengers for canceled flights

Air Canada gets in refund spat with WestJet

Air Canada seems to take issue with WestJet’s claim that it’s the first national airline in Canada to provide refunds proactively.

Air Canada took to Twitter to call out WestJet’s “misleading statement,” pointing out that Air Canada has been refunding refundable fares. Air Canada is technically correct — the airline has been refunding refundable fares while withholding billions of dollars worth of refunds for canceled flights booked on non-refundable fares.

WestJet then responded to Air Canada, stating that it will start offering refunds even for those on non-refundable tickets, which isn’t something that Air Canada has done.

Here’s the Twitter exchange:

I don’t think Air Canada comes out of this looking very good:

  • Sure, Air Canada has technically been providing refunds on refundable fares, while not providing refunds for canceled flights on non-refundable fares, which the airline has had a legal obligation to do in many markets
  • I commend WestJet’s commitment to providing refunds now, even if it’s many months late, which Air Canada hasn’t done yet; better late than never
  • Air Canada has objectively been one of the worst airlines in the world when it comes to its refund policy in recent months, so even if the airline were technically correct, I’m not sure there are many brownie points to score with the public by calling out a competitor

Should Air Canada be calling out any other carrier’s refund policy?

Bottom line

After denying refunds for several months, WestJet is finally in a position where it will start refunding passengers for canceled flights. While a lot of consumers have understandably been frustrated by the lack of refunds, I commend WestJet for doing the right finally, even if it’s months late.

What’s your take — was Air Canada right for publicly calling out WestJet, or…?

  1. As a “victim” of Air Canada’s refusal to refund, I have to say they have been one of the worst airlines to deal with during the pandemic, along with a number of other fellow Star Alliance airlines including Lufthansa, Swiss, TAP and Aegean amongst others!

  2. “several airline executives claimed that their airlines would literally have to liquidate if they were to refund all passengers for canceled flights”
    So be it. If you take money in advance for a service, then don’t provide the service, you ought to repay the money. I don’t get to fly and tell the airline I’ll pay them a couple of months later when my personal finances have recovered – the airline shouldn’t get to do that either.

  3. This pandemic showed that Air Canada (unlike Canadians) are sleazy, thieving company. Sure it is easy to pretend to be “nice” when times are nice, but true character is shown during hard times. Air Canada was ridding on coattails of Canadian fame of being nice. Air Canada is an embarrassment to Canada and Canadians. I hope US and EU ban Air Canada from flying in their airspace, since Air Canada believes that local laws where they are operating doesn’t apply to them, only Canadian. They should then only fly within Canada.

  4. @Ben Dover, you are correct. However, I wish legislatures in the US and globally or as part of a global agreement would also place restrictions on airlines who do not refund money. What I am thinking is that airlines can refuse to refund a customer’s money for up to a year during certain defined situations such as a pandemic but must pay the customer interest on the money not being refunded at an interest rate of at least 3 times the current bond market rate (if the company has raised debt in the last year then it would be 3 times their most expensive date raised in the last year, or a blended rate of a competitor’s) or 20%, whichever is higher. Also, if the airline defaults or declares bankruptcy, all of these customer refunds become secured debts as part of them refusing to make the refund on the requested ate. The interest would start accruing the day the refund request was made if the customer doesn’t receive the refund back to their original form of payment within 21 days of the original request. Also, vouchers are not considered an acceptable form of refund. It must be cash in the form of a check or credit back to customers debit/credit card.

    This way the customer gets rewarded for the airline using their money if the airline is not able to raise money in the debt or capital markets or does not want to do so. Now airlines aren’t being bailed out by their customers.

  5. Do not patronize this sleazy airline every gain. (looking at you Americans!) – dont be tempted by those $300 fares to Asia!

    Westjet is likely angling for a federal bailout, this is an entirely self-serving move, but still better than the thieves at Air Canada…..

  6. To be honest this is BS. When the airlines were making money, they spent that on dividends, share buybacks, insane executive bonuses rather than saving for a rainy day. As Ben Dover said, they charged an advance with a promise to offer a service in future. So they owe me a full refund when they didn’t fulfill their promise. Plain and simple, this is corporate greed.

    I haven’t heard any news about wide scale salary decrease for all executives – VP and above. They have made enough to go with reduced salary for few months if they are really concerned about viability of their company.

  7. I was a victim of Air Canada’s theft also: they cancelled all direct flights between LGA and Montreal and then refused to issue a refund. I called, tweeted and ultimately filed a compliant with DOT. AC refused my refund regardless. However, I ended up on the winning end: Air Canada issued me a voucher since they refused my refund and then my Credit Card approved the chargeback. Air Canada is scum; I hope they go out of business.

  8. Before scrambling over each other to come to WestJet’s defence (that includes you, Ben Schlappig), you may want to explore how “we” is defined when they say “if we cancelled your flight.” Not sure COVID would qualify. They’re response to AC was intentionally vague, IMO…

  9. I really hope AC doesn’t get a bailout from Canadian taxpayers. I’m worried the govt in power will do that.

  10. Extremely unprofessional for one airline to comment negatively on another’s social media account
    Air France and KLM are offering free rebookings and refunds on all fares / tickets until the end of March next year

  11. Air Canada left me stranded in Australia after cancelling all flights leaving there, they flat out refused any help getting home. I had to find and pay again for a way back to Canada and now they refuse to give me a refund. They are absolutely criminal keeping thousands of my retirement dollars!!!

  12. I’m in the same situation as others. I don’t understand how they claim they don’t have to follow US DOT guidelines. And how they can insist that customers pay the fare difference and fly the same segments when Air Canada has cancelled all the flights in that segment for the forseeable future. Why is the DOT is giving them special privileges?

  13. What about the Canadian air traveller’s bill of rights most recently implemented? Does that not compel the airline to not only refund the fare ( if no alternative flights are available) but also pay damages in the form of a pre-set cash payment.
    I received such payment once several years ago from Air France who had cancelled a Berlin-Paris flight. Payment within a week plus rebooking the flight with KLM through Amsterdam and then onto Vancouver.

  14. I can sympathize with both Air Canada and WestJet and the challenges in general that the airline industry is going through (and many others) because of the pandemic. The great reduction in flights by the airlines have directly impacted the company I work for as well as me personally. As two of the largest accounts we serve (along with Alaska Air), our business declined drastically when flights were cut and at the beginning of April I was one of the many that our company temporarily laid off, about half of our workforce. Luckily I was recalled 5 weeks ago due to a maternity leave but the majority still have not been called back.

    These are Canada’s biggest airlines so to have either them completely fold would be a huge hit to our economy & detrimental to our travel industry. I’m glad WestJet is doing the right thing (better late than never) and apparently it will take time for them to pay for those cancelled flights. It seems to me that they had to wait and see if they could afford to pay out, and if paying out slowly helps them stay afloat so that they will still be around when we can all travel worldwide again…well….I’m all for it.

    Everyone is hurting financially right now and I understand people want their money back, however, we need to play the long game so that we won’t be at the mercy of one major airline (AC) when things return to “normal”.

  15. I have an email from air Canada telling me right out no refund. They forced me to take a vouchure! I said no I want a refund, they told me no! Janet delfuoco.
    Who do I call to turn and get a refund?

  16. Dear Janet,

    We realize you disagree and view our approach as inconsistent with the US DOT’s Enforcement Notice. However, we believe that our position is consistent with US and Canadian law having examined this question in depth. We appreciate your situation, but we are unable to make exceptions to individual customers. We are comfortable with the response provided to you previously and we are unable to offer further consideration to your request for a refund.

    We hope that despite disappointing you, we can continue to count on your support.


  17. AC is a disgrace. Not only their own 100K cannot get their very *own* signature suite by their own business class under some circumstances – UA even grant promotional J Polaris, but also not to provide refund for cancelled flight by their own fault – even if LCCs won’t do that.
    Time reveals a person, or a company’s true heart. Shame on AC. I would rather take UA.

  18. ” and then my Credit Card approved the chargeback.”

    Why can’t this be done by everyone who used a credit card for their airline ticket fare? I thought credit cards were required to issue refunds when the service isn’t received?

  19. AC is led by a rogue who has been in charge for far, far too long and who leads a bureaucratic cabal expert at stuffing moolah in their own pockets. A bad stink seeps right down to the FA level. Passengers are the least of their concerns. They are treated like cattle. Canadians detest this so-called ‘national’ airline (as it used to be). WestJet is far from perfect but appear to apply human values to passengers. And yes, my wife and I had two tickets to LGW from YYZ on WS for June that were cancelled. The airline refunded us the entire fare in August. Sure, they must have been pushed by EU regs but at least they paid up. I have not flown AC in years, preferring WestJet by far.

  20. I am living in Israel.
    My experience with refunds:
    Easyjet: the swiftest refund.
    Brussels Airlines: painful but got the money three months after Easyjet although the travel dates were close.
    El Al: still waiting for the refund . The flight was booked for April.
    Conclusion: Easyjet in the future (when there will be one). The swiftest and seemless response.
    El Al: the usual despair. Only if that’s the only choice. Used to fly El Al to Bangkok. Now they are useless thanks to the connection flights in Abu Dhabi.

  21. Yes, AC has been refunding “refundable” tickets. The voucher policy only applies to “non-refundable” tickets.
    Isn’t it better to have a non-restrictive voucher for future travel then nothing at all if the airlines had gone into bankruptcy protection right away? Plus they even allow to use the vouchers for someone else, which means you could sell them.
    How come nobody talks about insurance companies who refuse to to pay up for cancelled trips, coverd by cancellation insurance?
    Many of the airlines who did provide refunds for “nonrefundable tickets only did so after getting a bail out from their Govts. Its about time the Can Govt did the same instead of waisting so much money on other things.

  22. I booked a return flight with Air Canada on the 1st of June via Expedia. Departing Amsterdam. However, on the 21st of October Lufthansa cancelled a (codeshare) flight on the inbound leg and there was no favorable alternative, so I called Expedia to cancel. After declining a voucher and telling the representative that I wanted to get a cash refund according to EU passenger rights they called Air Canada while I was on hold and 10 minutes later she said she received an override code and the total amount would be credited back within 8 weeks.

    Today I logged in on my Amex app and to my surprise the total amound was credited to my creditcard on the 21st of October, the same day! Kudos to Air Canada.

  23. I am too disappointed with AC. I understand they are in tough situation but so are other people too. Why do i have to borrow money and pay interest on it while AC is sitting on my money perhaps collecting interest with it. Many people lost jobs and they still have to pay rent/food etc. I can’t tell the bank i won’t pay my mortgage because losing my job was outside of my control. I hope the gov forces them to give refunds.

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