Air Canada has refused to offer passengers refunds for cancelled flights, using a regulatory loophole.

The Canadian Press has reported that Air Canada has refused to give compensation to customers thanks to a company-wide policy introduced during the pandemic allowing employees to classify flight cancellations caused by staff shortages as a “safety” problem.

In a correspondence obtained, in concern to a compensation claim made by grounded passenger Mr Ryan Farrell, whose flight from Yellowknife to Calgary was cancelled four hours before departure. Air Canada said they had no obligation to customers, amidst the staff shortage crisis affecting airlines around the globe (as Travel Radar have reported extensively).

“Since your Air Canada flight was delayed/canceled due to crew constraints resulting from the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on our operations, the compensation you are requesting does not apply because the delay/cancellation was caused by a safety-related issue.”

Mr Farrell said he was left disappointed by the response, after informing them know of the inconvenience he faced six weeks earlier.

“[It] feels like a slap in the face,” Farrell said.

“If they don’t have replacement crew to substitute in, then the flight (was) cancelled because they failed to assemble a crew, not because any other factor would have made it inherently unsafe to run the flight,” he said in an email.

“I think the airlines are trying to exploit a general emotional connection that people make between ‘COVID-19’ and ‘safety,’ when in reality, if you put their logic to the test, it doesn’t stand up.”

How is Air Canada able to do this?

Under Federal Canadian law, the Air Passenger Protection Regulations require airlines to pay up $1,000 in compensation in the event of cancellations or significant delays that are within the carrier’s control when the notification comes 14 days or less before departure. However, airlines are exempt from having to provide any payments should cancellations occur due to safety concerns for flights.

Air Canada has appeared to have exploited this apparent loophole. In a December memo issued during the height of the Omicron wave, Air Canada said: “Effective immediately, flight cancellations due to crew are considered as Within Carrier Control — For Safety.”

passengers resting
Air Canada has been heavily criticised for not compensating stranded passengers @THE CANADIAN PRESS/Ryan Remiorz

President of the Air Passenger Rights advocacy group, Gabor Lukacs, said Air Canada’s actions are breaching the passenger rights charter and called on the Federal Canadian Transportation Agency for stronger enforcement of regulations

“They are misclassifying things that are clearly not a safety issue,” Mr Lukas said.

“This document, along with the previous declarations and behaviour since the beginning of the pandemic, shows that Air Canada’s priority is clearly to try to limit the costs of the flight cancellations instead of providing good service to its clients,”

Air Canada has rebuffed these accusations saying “it had done everything it could to prepare for operational hiccups.”

“Air Canada follows all public health directives as part of its safety culture, and during the Omicron wave last winter that affected some crew availability, the company said in a statement to The Canadian Press.

“We revised our policy to better assist customers in their travels with enhanced levels of customer care for flight cancellations related to crew contending with COVID.”

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