British Columbia

Man who got voucher instead of refund targets Air Canada's COVID-19 cancellation policy in U.S. class action

A New York man whose trip to B.C. for a family wedding was cancelled because of COVID-19 is trying to launch a class action lawsuit against Air Canada over the airline’s failure to refund his tickets.

New York man's trip to B.C. for family wedding cancelled because of COVID-19

A New York man has filed a lawsuit in the Southern District of New York accusing Air Canada of false and deceptive practices because of its COVID-19 refund policy. He wants to certify the claim as a class action on behalf of U.S. customers. (Mark Blinch/Canadian Press)

A New York man whose trip to B.C. for a family wedding was cancelled because of COVID-19 is trying to launch a class action lawsuit against Air Canada over the airline's refusal to refund his tickets.

In a civil complaint filed in the Southern District of New York last week, Emilio Vozzolo says Air Canada has an obligation to give him back the $1,942.90 US he spent on five tickets from Newark to Vancouver.

Instead, he says, he was offered a voucher that will expire in two years.

Vozzolo is seeking to certify a class action lawsuit on behalf of all U.S. consumers who have not received refunds for tickets bought for Air Canada, Air Canada Rouge or Air Canada Express flights scheduled to fly within, from, or to the United States beginning March 1.

In a 27-page complaint, Vozzolo accuses the airline of changing the policies on its website after it began cancelling flights due to COVID-19 to suggest that Air Canada "does not have an obligation to provide refunds for cancelled flights, when in fact it does."

"Because a significant percentage of customers are unlikely to redeem their vouchers by the deadline, [Air Canada] will likely reap close to a 100 per cent profit margin on many of the unredeemed prepaid tickets," the lawsuit reads.

"[The airline] is essentially using the prepaid tickets as interest free loans, and in the case of unredeemed vouchers as a forced grant, demanding that its suffering customers provide it with a second bail-out."

'Only option was to receive a voucher'

In a statement to the CBC, Air Canada declined comment on the lawsuit while the matter is before the courts.

The airline faces a similar claim in Canadian federal court, where a B.C. woman is seeking to certify a class action lawsuit against a number of airlines over the issuing of vouchers instead of full refunds. Her lawyer described the case as one grounded in consumer protections.

A proposed class action was also filed in Florida in April by a man who claims he was refused a refund for the cancellation of a flight from Orlando to Tokyo via Toronto. 

Air Canada has been forced to cancel flights because of the COVID-19 pandemic. A lawsuit filed in the U.S. claims the airline has an obligation to refund passengers who want their money back. (Ben Nelms/CBC)

Vozzolo accuses Air Canada of false and misleading practices and of violating New York state laws forbidding false advertising.

On Dec. 30, 2019, he bought tickets for himself and four immediate family members to attend a family wedding in Vancouver. The flights were scheduled to depart April 29 and return May 5.

Vozzolo claims he contacted Air Canada at the end of March to ask about the impact of COVID-19 on travel.

"[He] was told that if the rebooked flights were cancelled, he would not receive a refund," the lawsuit reads.

"Rather, the only option was to receive a voucher for travel from [Air Canada] that would expire within two years of the date his tickets were purchased."

New terms and conditions

Vozzolo says he learned that Air Canada cancelled his flight on April 20.

The lawsuit contrasts an image of the "Terms and Conditions" taken from Air Canada's website prior to the COVID-19 outbreak with language introduced after airlines were forced to cancel flights because of the coronavirus.

The old language offered customers the option of requesting a refund for cancellations "due to reasons within Air Canada's control or required for safety purposes."

The lawsuit includes this screenshot from Air Canada's Facebook page, featuring customers complaining to the airline about its policies. (Southern District of New York)

But Vozzolo says the language changed after Air Canada began to cancel tickets — and well after he bought his tickets — to specify that cancellations resulting from the COVID-19 crisis are considered "outside our control."

Vozzolo claims he might not have bought his tickets had those new specifications been in place at the time of purchase.

As such, he says, customers should be entitled to the terms and conditions under which they paid their money, not ones drawn up after the fact to justify the issuing of vouchers.

'Thanks for nothing'

The complaint includes several pages of posts to Air Canada's Facebook page to bolster the class action claim.

"This should be illegal," reads one.

"What next trip?" reads another.

"I want my money," reads yet another. 

And, "Thanks for nothing."

Vozzolo cites an April 3 U.S. Department of Transportation enforcement notice issued in response to customer unrest which says "the airlines' obligation to refund passengers for cancelled or significantly delayed flights remains unchanged."

None of the claims have been proven in court.

About the Author

Jason Proctor

@proctor_jason

Jason Proctor is a reporter in British Columbia for CBC News and has covered the B.C. courts and mental health issues in the justice system extensively.

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