A plane is seen through the window on the tarmac of Vancouver International Airport as the waiting room is empty Tuesday, June 9, 2020. Canadians are awaiting details on Air Canada’s plans for ticket refunds after the airline reached a deal for $5.9B in federal aid. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jonathan Hayward

A plane is seen through the window on the tarmac of Vancouver International Airport as the waiting room is empty Tuesday, June 9, 2020. Canadians are awaiting details on Air Canada’s plans for ticket refunds after the airline reached a deal for $5.9B in federal aid. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jonathan Hayward

Air Canada’s government aid deal needs stricter terms, passenger advocate says

Advocate says no guarantee that refunds will actually come through

One of Canada’s best-known advocates for passenger rights said Tuesday that taxpayers don’t have enough security in the $5.9-billion aid deal struck by Ottawa and Air Canada even as the airline began rolling out new refunds to ticket holders unable travel due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

One of the deal’s flaws is a $1.4-billion unsecured government loan to provide those refunds to customers with unused, non-refundable tickets and vacation packages, said Air Passenger Rights founder Gabor Lukacs.

Because it’s an unsecured loan, there would be “no real way” to seize assets if the company defaults on its repayments, Lukacs said.

In addition, the government gets just six per cent of Air Canada’s total equity in return for $500 million, he noted, compared with a 20-per-cent Lufthansa stake for the German government.

“Overall, we see a … public message that, in Canada, it is acceptable to misappropriate consumers’ money, and there will be no consequences,” Lukacs said in a phone interview.

That characterization of the deal was disputed by Finance Minister Chrystia Freeland when she announced the agreement on Monday evening.

“Taxpayers aren’t footing the bill,” Freeland told reporters. “This is a loan facility, and the Government of Canada fully expects to be paid back.’

The federal aid package comes after months of negotiations between Ottawa and an airline industry that has been devastated by the lack of passenger air travel during the pandemic.

Air Canada’s passenger numbers declined 73 per cent in 2020 following several years of record growth for the airline. During 2020, it reduced staff by more than 20,000, more than half of the pre-COVID total, then cut another 1,700 employees in January.

The Montreal-based company posted a staggering $1.16-billion loss in the fourth quarter of last year, a result that caps off what the carrier’s then-CEO called the “bleakest year in aviation history.”

Aside from the ticket refunds, the deal includes a number of other conditions for Air Canada to meet.

The country’s biggest airline has committed to resume service at 13 regional airports as well as seven others through agreements with regional carriers.

It has also agreed to cap executive compensation, to stop dividend payments and share buybacks, to maintain staffing levels and to complete previously planned aircraft purchases of the Airbus A220 — formerly Bombardier Inc.’s C Series — manufactured in Quebec.

“Given the upcoming April 19th federal budget, we had been anticipating some form of announcement,” ATB Capital Markets analyst Chris Murray said in a note to clients.

“Overall, we see the package as fair and manageable … ensuring Air Canada is well-positioned to emerge post-COVID to support a return to travel.”

Travellers who weren’t able to use their non-refundable tickets and vacation packages bought between Feb. 1, 2020 and April 13, 2021 can immediately request refunds, which the carrier says it will process as quickly as possible.

“Air Canada will be offering refunds to all eligible customers whether they cancelled their ticket or if their flight was cancelled by the airline,” Air Canada chief operating officer Lucie Guillemette said in a statement.

Customers who have already accepted a travel voucher or Aeroplan points instead of cash will also have the option to exchange these for a refund, it said.

The airline said it has already provided $1.2 billion to customers with refundable tickets, which are usually more expensive than their non-refundable equivalents..

Air Canada said customers can submit refund requests online or through their travel agent. The airline will accept online refund requests until June 12 at www.aircanada.com/refund.

Air Canada has also revised booking policies for all future travel, starting Tuesday, to provide more certainty if a flight is cancelled or rescheduled by more than three hours.

All customers will have the choice of receiving a refund, an Air Canada Travel Voucher or the equivalent value in Aeroplan Points with a 65 per cent bonus, the company said in a statement.

READ MORE: Air Canada refunds en route after $5.9B deal for federal government aid

David Paddon, The Canadian Press


Like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter.

Want to support local journalism during the pandemic? Make a donation here.

Air CanadaAir TravelCoronavirus

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

Ripy Jubbal of Abbotsford has received a 30-month jail sentence for the fraudulent use of credit cards and credit card data. (Facebook photo)
Abbotsford woman sentenced for $80K in fraudulent credit card purchases

Ripy Jubbal and spouse used identities of 19 different victims, court hears

A woman in the Harrison Mills area was attacked by a cougar on Tuesday, May 4. (File photo)
UPDATE: 2 cougars killed following attack in Harrison Mills

Attack victim remains in hospital in stable condition

....
Abbotsford graphic designer pitches Flyers rebrand for AHL team

Alex Svarez suggests new affiliate team turns back the clock and brings back Flyers moniker

Mike Haire, a former vice-principal at W. A. Fraser Middle School in Abbotsford, began court proceedings on Monday, May 3 in New Westminster for two child pornography offences.
Trial paused for former Abbotsford vice-principal charged with child porn

Judge reserves decision on admissibility of evidence against Mike Haire

Abbotsford’s Jake Virtanen is now under investigation from the Vancouver Police Department following sexual misconduct allegations. (John Morrow/Abbotsford News)
Vancouver police investigating sexual misconduct claims against Canucks’ Jake Virtanen

Abbotsford native remains on leave with the Vancouver Canucks following recent allegations

Jose Marchand prepares Pfizer COVID-19 vaccination doses at a mobile clinic for members of First Nations and their partners, in Montreal, Friday, April 30, 2021. The National Advisory Committee on Immunization is coming under fire after contradicting the advice Canadians have been receiving for weeks to take the first vaccine against COVID-19 that they’re offered. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Ryan Remiorz
Trudeau says he is glad he got AstraZeneca, vaccines are only way out of pandemic

‘The most important thing is to get vaccinated with the first vaccine offered to you’

Solar panels on a parking garage at the University of B.C. will be used to separate water into oxygen and hydrogen, the latter captured to supply a vehicle filling station. (UBC video)
UBC parkade project to use solar energy for hydrogen vehicles

Demonstration project gets $5.6M in low-carbon fuel credits

FILE – A student arrives at school as teachers dressed in red participate in a solidarity march to raise awareness about cases of COVID-19 at Ecole Woodward Hill Elementary School, in Surrey, B.C., on Tuesday, February 23, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Darryl Dyck
B.C. ‘should be able to’ offer 1st dose of COVID vaccine to kids 12+ by end of June: Henry

Health Canada authorized the vaccine for younger teens this morning

A woman wears a face mask and shield to curb the spread of COVID-19 while walking in North Vancouver, B.C., on Wednesday, January 6, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Darryl Dyck
B.C. CDC updates info, acknowledging small respiratory droplets can spread COVID-19

Large droplets, not aerosols had been fixture of public health messaging for many months

A picture of Shirley Ann Soosay was rendered from a postmortem photographer and circulated on social media. (DDP graphic)
B.C. genealogist key to naming murder victim in decades-old California cold case

In July 1980, Shirley Ann Soosay was raped and stabbed to death

Mary Kitagawa was born on Salt Spring Island and was seven years old when she was interned along with 22,000 B.C. residents in 1942. (B.C. government video)
B.C. funds health services for survivors of Japanese internment

Seniors describe legacy of World War II displacement

Meghan Gilley, a 35-year-old emergency room doctor and new mom was vaccinated from COVID-19 in January, while she was pregnant. She’s encouraging others to do the same. (Submitted)
‘The best decision’: B.C. mom encourages other pregnant women to get COVID-19 shot

Meghan Gilley, 35, delivered a healthy baby after being vaccinated against the virus while pregnant

Former Vernon Panthers football standout Ben Hladik of the UBC Thunderbirds (top, in a game against the Manitoba Bisons, <ins>making one of his 38 Canada West solo tackles in 2019</ins>), was chosen in Tuesday’s 2021 Canadian Football League draft. (Rich Lam - UBC Thunderbirds photo)
B.C. Lions call on Vernon standout in CFL draft

Canadian Football League club selects former VSS Panthers star Ben Hladik in third round of league draft

Most Read