“We will have to look very carefully at what we can do”: Trudeau’s travel update

Trudeau wades into refunds vs. vouchers debate, industry braces for more disputes

OTTAWA — Prime Minister Justin Trudeau waded into the refunds vs. vouchers debate at his daily COVID-19 briefing today.

Trudeau was asked by a reporter about the issue, one that has caused considerable stress in the industry amid already challenging times. Travellers who are out-of-pocket for airfares on cancelled flights often want refunds. Airlines, forced to slash capacity and in many cases suspend all operations for a global health emergency that is beyond their control, and taking every step to conserve cash, are offering future travel credits and vouchers. And agents are caught in the middle.

“The federal government is the regulator of Canada’s airlines. Will you use that power and authority over them to insist that people who were not given refunds, get those refunds?” asked a reporter.

Trudeau said: “This is an important issue for Canadians, one that we are working with the airlines and with the Canadians concerned on. We’re looking at what other countries have done with these measures. We’re looking to make sure that Canadians are supported financially through this time, but that also we’re going to come back with airlines that function here in Canada for the long term. Getting that balance right will be delicate but it is something that we’re working on.”

The reporter followed up: “Don’t you see that this is fundamentally unfair, that people who bought tickets may never be able to use them and are being given vouchers instead. Don’t you think it’s a matter of fairness and the right thing to do, whatever issues the airline industry is facing right now?”

Trudeau answered: “This is why we are working with all concerned parties to find a solution.”

In March the Canadian Transportation Agency (CTA) posted a statement indicating the given the unprecedented circumstances, vouchers were an appropriate alternative to refunds. It seemed to backpedal slightly with a followup FAQ.

Yesterday ACTA posted a document meant for agents to use to explain to clients the role travel agents play between suppliers and consumers, “in response to requests for assistance and in order to assist Members in their communications with their customers concerning these issues,” says ACTA.

“Consumers often pressure agents to speed up supplier responses, or to insist on refunds, not understanding that the Travel Agent is actually an agent of the supplier in most supplier relationships.”

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