Politics·CBC Explains

How pandemic-grounded Air Canada customers can get their money back

Air Canada has started offering refunds to customers who bought tickets for flights and vacations they didn't take as a result of the coronavirus pandemic. Here's what you need to know.

Millions of customers are now eligible for refunds under terms of federal relief package

An Air Canada check-in desk at the Calgary airport in Calgary, Alta., Wednesday, March 25, 2020, in the early days of the COVID-19 pandemic. Air Canada customers who saw their flights cancelled or chose not to fly since February 2020 are now eligible for refunds. (Jeff McIntosh/The Canadian Press)

Air Canada has started offering refunds to customers who bought non-refundable tickets for flights and vacations they didn't take as a result of the coronavirus pandemic.

Thousands of people saw their holiday plans upended when travel restrictions imposed to limit the spread of COVID-19 caused widespread flight cancellations. Others chose to cancel trips on their own in accordance with public health warnings that discouraged domestic and international travel.

Until this week, Air Canada was refusing to refund many of those customers and instead offered vouchers or other forms of credit that could be used to purchase future flights.

But ensuring those customers get their money back was a key condition of an agreement announced between the federal government and Air Canada yesterday. Under the deal, the federal government will provide $5.9 billion in financial support to the company through a mix of low-interest loans and equity financing. 

In exchange for the support, Air Canada has agreed to refund customers, restore regional routes and set limits on executive compensation, share buybacks and dividend payments.

"We want to make sure that every passenger who bought a ticket within [the agreed-upon] dates will get refunded," said Transport Minister Omar Alghabra in an interview with CBC's Power & Politics today.

Here is what travellers need to know about the changes.

Who qualifies for a refund?

As of today, Air Canada has amended its COVID-19 refund policy. The new policy applies to anyone who bought a non-refundable ticket or vacation package before Apr. 13, 2021 for travel on or after Feb. 1, 2020.

Customers with tickets purchased during this period that were cancelled by the airline — or cancelled voluntarily by the customer for any reason — will have the option to receive a refund in their original form of payment.

How do you apply for a refund?

How you apply for a refund depends on how you bought your ticket or vacation package.

Customers who purchased directly from Air Canada must apply online using the airline's website. Air Canada will accept online refund requests from eligible customers until June 12 at www.aircanada.com/refund.

Customers who booked through a travel agency or travel booking website must contact those companies directly. If the agency is no longer open for business, customers have to call Air Canada's customer service line so that the airline can verify the company has permanently closed its doors before starting the refund process.

As part of the agreement between Air Canada and the federal government, travel agencies and booking sites get to keep any commissions they made on the ticket sales.

WATCH:  Airline passengers to get refunds in Air Canada's deal with Ottawa

Airline passengers to get refunds in Air Canada’s deal with Ottawa

2 years ago
Duration 2:02
Air Canada and the federal government reached an agreement for low-interest government loans to support the beleaguered airline, and it includes refunds for passengers whose flights were cancelled because of COVID-19.

What if you've already converted the ticket to a travel voucher or Aeroplan points?

Air Canada said customers who already have accepted an Air Canada travel voucher or Aeroplan points as recompense will have the option to exchange these for a refund in their original form of payment. 

This includes customers who have used a portion of their travel voucher or have received only partial refunds, the airline said.

How long will it take to get the refund?

Air Canada said it can take from one to three months for refunds to be processed, depending on the individual's financial institution.

"We are committed to processing refunds as fast as possible," Lucie Guillemette, executive vice-president and chief commercial officer at Air Canada, said in a media release today.

Air Canada said it tracks bookings by passenger name records (PNRs), which could be for an individual traveller or for a group. The airline estimates it could have more than two million PNRs to process, although some passengers may be content with vouchers or Aeroplan points instead of refunds.

The airline said it already has paid $1.2 billion to customers with refundable tickets.

Air Canada agreed to a number of conditions in exchange for access to $5.9 billion in liquidity from the federal government. (Nathan Denette/The Canadian Press)

What about future travel bookings?

Air Canada has amended its booking policy for all future travel.

Starting today, all customers will have the option to receive a refund, a travel voucher or the equivalent value in Aeroplan points in cases where the airline cancels or reschedules a flight for more than three hours. Those who opt for points can receive a 65 per cent bonus.

"This new policy will provide more certainty and flexibility, so customers can book their future travel with greater confidence, and we look forward to welcoming you back on board," said Guillemette.

WATCH: Transport minister says he is 'very confident' the Air Canada deal will boost employment 

Feds 'very confident' Air Canada deal will lead to a jump in employment numbers: Alghabra

2 years ago
Duration 8:11
Transport Minister Omar Alghabra says the federal government is "very confident" that the deal reached with Air Canada will lead to a jump in employment beyond the jobs formally secured in the deal: "We know there will be a bigger number."

Which regional routes will be restored?

Under the deal with the federal government, Air Canada has agreed to restore flights on 13 regional routes no later than June 1, 2021.

Air Canada service at the following suspended airports will resume as long as public health advice permits:

  • Bathurst
  • Comox
  • Fredericton
  • Gander
  • Goose Bay
  • Kamloops
  • North Bay
  • Penticton
  • Prince Rupert
  • Saint John
  • Sandspit
  • Sydney
  • Yellowknife
The federal government is still negotiating with other airlines about potential relief packages. Deputy Prime Minister Chrystia Freeland says talks with WestJet have been 'constructive.' (Nathan Denette/The Canadian Press)

What if you're a customer of another airline?

Deputy Prime Minister and Finance Minister Chrystia Freeland said Monday that the federal government is still in negotiations with other airlines on possible aid packages.

Freeland described talks with Calgary-based WestJet — the country's second largest airline — as "constructive."

"The basic general requirements of the government of Canada, of course, will be the same — the importance of refunds, the importance of restoration of regional routes, the importance of maintaining employment, the importance of restrictions on executive compensation," she said. "But the precise shape of an agreement will depend on the specific needs of each airline."

In October, WestJet announced it would start a six- to nine-month process of refunding passengers with refundable and non-refundable tickets for flights cancelled by the airline during the pandemic. Passengers with non-refundable tickets who cancelled their flights on their own are not eligible.

In a statement issued Monday, WestJet said it plans to restore service to all 42 airports it served before the pandemic "at our earliest opportunity" and that its refund policy is "industry-leading" in Canada.

Applying for a refund from Air Canada? Tell us about it: Ask@cbc.ca.

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