Air Transat plans to cancel all flights from Western Canada to sun destinations and the United States this winter, with refunds en route to customers — a policy about-face in the COVID-19 era.
The airline is scrubbing all southbound routes that were slated to take off from Winnipeg, Calgary, Edmonton, Vancouver and Victoria, Air Transat parent Transat AT told customers this week.
The only routes out of western gateways between Nov. 1 and April 30 will be from Vancouver to Toronto and Montreal, and some connecting flights to Europe via Toronto.
Would-be passengers will automatically receive a full refund rather than the company credit that has previously been offered for flights cancelled due to the COVID-19 crisis, Transat said.
“Since the current situation does not allow us to foresee resuming routes from Western Canada in the near future and there will therefore be no direct flight options to use vouchers with Air Transat from their location, customers impacted by cancellations resulting from this suspension will receive a refund in the amount on file,” Transat spokesperson Marie-Christine Pouliot said in an email.
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“For other locations, where more options exist, we have offered more flexibility by relaxing our travel credit policy. They are now fully transferable and have no expiry date.”
Transat cited “the many challenges” facing the airline industry, which revolve around a pandemic that shut down borders and grounded fleets before traffic slowly starting to pick up in the summer, though not enough to revive the critical crossborder tourism or business travel markets. The Montreal-based carrier’s first flight in four months took off last week.
Transat and other Canadian airlines have refused to reimburse most customers whose flights were cancelled as a result of the coronavirus.
Transat, Air Canada and WestJet Airlines Ltd. have all said their stance on refunds aligns with federal regulations and guidance posted over the past five months by the Canadian Transportation Agency (CTA).
Legal precedent, contract law suggest that’s not the case, said passenger rights advocate Gabor Lukacs, noting “the universal principal across Canada” that customers should be reimbursed for services never rendered.
“Air Transat must refund all passengers whose flights were cancelled, regardless of their point of departure or the reason for the cancellation,” Lukacs said, citing a CTA decision from 2004 concerning Transat as well as the carrier’s own contract of carriage.
The company’s crossborder tariff — a contract between airline and passenger — states that Transat “will refund the unused ticket” in the event of overbooking or cancellation by the airline.
Air Canada quietly changed its refund policy in June to allow some customers with cancelled flight tickets to recoup their cash — but not passengers whose trips originated in Canada.
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Travellers with flights originating in the European Union, Switzerland or Iceland are entitled to receive a refund, the airline said, but passengers who were slated to fly one-way or round-trip from Canada to Europe are not.
WestJet changed its policy to reimburse customers on flights between the U.S. and Canada that were cancelled due to COVID-19 after “carefully monitoring the regulatory frameworks” across jurisdictions.
The country’s three biggest airlines have cancelled tens of thousands of flights since late March. Air Canada saw capacity dip by 95 per cent in the spring after it lost more than $1 billion in the first quarter and projects passenger levels will not return to 2019 levels for at least three years.
Transat told The Canadian Press last week it will delay the closing deadline of its takeover by Air Canada, pushing it back by one month until Aug. 27 as European regulators and federal cabinet members mull how the $720-million acquisition will affect competition.