With major disruptions in both domestic and international air travel as a result of the spread of COVID-19, the Canadian Transportation Agency (CTA) advises that for flight disruptions that are outside an airline’s control, the Canada Transportation Act and Air Passenger Protection Regulations (APPR) only require that the airline ensure passengers can complete their itineraries.
Some airlines’ tariffs provide for refunds in certain cases, but may have clauses that airlines believe relieve them of such obligations in force majeure situations.
The CTA notes that the legislation, regulations, and tariffs were developed in anticipation of relatively localized and short-term disruptions.
None contemplated the kind of worldwide mass flight cancellations that have taken place over recent weeks as a result of the pandemic.
As a result, the CTA says that “it’s important to consider how to strike a fair and sensible balance between passenger protection and airlines’ operational realities in these extraordinary and unprecedented circumstances.”
Observing that: “On the one hand, passengers who have no prospect of completing their planned itineraries with an airline’s assistance should not simply be out-of-pocket for the cost of cancelled flights. On the other hand, airlines facing huge drops in passenger volumes and revenues should not be expected to take steps that could threaten their economic viability.”
The CTA says that while any specific situation brought before the CTA will be examined on its merits, it believes that, generally speaking, an appropriate approach in the current context could be for airlines to provide affected passengers with vouchers or credits for future travel, as long as these vouchers or credits do not expire in an unreasonably short period of time (24 months would be considered reasonable in most cases).
The agency says that it will continue to provide information, guidance, and services to passengers and airlines as “we make our way through this challenging period.”