Some of Canada’s biggest airlines are facing a potential class-action lawsuit, after failing to offer their customers refunds for COVID-19-related cancellations. The Canadian airline lawsuit, which was filed last week, involves Air Canada, WestJet, Swoop, Air Transat and Sunwing. It proposes that customers should receive a full cash refund, rather than just travel credit.

A woman in British Columbia has committed to taking on the Canadian airline industry, by filing a class-action lawsuit against some of the country’s major air carriers.

Filing the proposed suit on behalf of all Canadian travellers who have had flights cancelled due to COVID-19, Janet Donaldson is calling for full monetary refunds, rather than just travel credits.

After the federal government closed Canada’s borders earlier this month, the country’s leading airlines have been cancelling flights and curtailing schedules, leaving many Canadians unable to take their flights or vacations.

Rather than offer a full monetary refund for these cancelled flights, the carriers have instead only offered customers the option to rebook their journey or save the funds as travel credit.

This, according to the proposed lawsuit, is holding the passengers’ money “indefinitely for a purchase that... (they) may or may not wish to make in the future.”

Donaldson’s suit claims that the outbreak of COVID-19, and the subsequent effect on global travel, was “outside of the control of the passengers,” and therefore warrants a full refund.

The court documents also state that airlines are opting to hold on to customers’ money, despite not incurring the costs of operating the cancelled flights.

According to Simon Lin, a lawyer with the law firm that is overseeing the case, Canadians are actually legally entitled to a monetary refund.

With potentially hundreds of thousands of affected people, he believes that it could be one of the biggest lawsuits of its kind.

Last week, the Canadian Transportation Agency (CTA) posted a Statement on Vouchers, which advised that airlines may not be required to provide full refunds "in force majeure situations."

It suggested that a scenario such as the COVID-19 pandemic would relieve airlines of responsibility to provide a refund, and states that a voucher or travel credit would be considered appropriate, “as long as these vouchers or credits do not expire in an unreasonably short period of time.”

However, according to Lin, this is simply a recommendation and is not legally binding.

“You can’t in broad strokes say everything is ‘force majeure’ and cancel every single contract out there,” he explained to VICE.


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For the time being, Donaldson must wait for a federal judge to consider her case.

If the case is decided to have merit, anybody who bought an air ticket before March 11, 2020, set to travel after March 13, 2020, will be one step closer to receiving a full monetary refund.

A representative from Sunwing told Narcity, “We are unable to comment on an ongoing legal matter, however, we have been very clear that the decision to suspend all flights was made as a last resort.”

Air Transat explained, "We do not have any specific comments regarding the lawsuit per se," but added, "We do believe that, in such a force majeure situation ... we do not have to issue a full refund for travels that have not been completed."

Air Canada has not yet replied to Narcity's request for comment.

WestJet and Swoop declined to comment on the lawsuit.

For now, the proposed class action covers all passengers who had booked tickets with any of the mentioned airlines.

According to EvoLink Law Group, all affected people will be automatically included in the case, should it become certified. Therefore, no action is required at this time.

 
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