CALGARY — WestJet has posted a blog about its stance on refunds amid the COVID-19 pandemic.
Angela Avery, the airline’s Executive VP, General Counsel and Corporate Secretary, with responsibility for WestJet’s government relations portfolio, posted the blog yesterday.
After reviewing WestJet’s various fare classes, including those with refund options, she talks about the impact of COVID-19 and the travel restrictions on the airline’s operations.
“The speed and breadth of the impact of COVID-19 was impossible to predict and had no reference point in the history of commercial aviation. WestJet has been impacted by COVID-19 as much as any enterprise and when the pandemic hit, our guest bookings dropped by 95%, while cancellations outstripped the numbers of bookings. At no other time have we had to ground two-thirds of our fleet, furlough 9,000 of 14,000 employees, repatriate thousands of citizens and shut down most of our network aside from domestic flying. These were massive changes, implemented swiftly in the name of safety and protecting our business in a short period of time,” says Avery.
“A lot changed overnight due to the pandemic,” she adds. “What did not change was our guests’ tickets.”
Guests who had purchased refundable tickets like Flex Premium and Flex Business were immediately entitled to refunds, she notes.
WestJet also provided refunds In jurisdictions like the UK, the European Union and the U.S., WestJet was required to provide refunds to guests when we cancelled their flights.
“It is worth noting that in each of the jurisdictions where refunds were required by law, those governments had provided some measure of financial support to their home airlines. Canada remains the exception where no sector-specific funding has yet been provided to the aviation industry,” says Avery.
FUTURE TRAVEL VOUCHERS
For passengers who were not eligible for refunds because of the fare class of the ticket they purchased, WestJet made the decision to provide all of its domestic passengers vouchers for the full price of the ticket.
“I am not your lawyer and I cannot provide you with legal advice, however, I would encourage you to review the guidance provided by the Canadian Transportation Agency (CTA) on March 25, 2020 stating that airline tariffs do not always provide for cash refunds especially in cases beyond an airline’s control, such as the pandemic. WestJet did not provide vouchers because were required to provide them – WestJet provided vouchers because we believed it was the right thing to do and we hope that our guests will fly with us as soon as circumstances permit,” said Avery.
She adds that the airline went one step further with its announcement on Oct. 21 that refunds would be available to all guests whose flights had been cancelled by WestJet no matter the fare class they had purchased, including those who had purchased our Econo Basic fare.
Says Avery: “We remain the only national airline in Canada to have undertaken refunds in this manner and to date, more than $450 million is eligible for refunding or has already been refunded to our guests. The process is a bit slower than would otherwise be the case, but our workforce remains a fraction of what it once was, and we are working through the backlog as quickly as we can.”
She notes that as WestJet works through its refund process, many passengers are asking to keep their refunds in the form of vouchers. “And for this, we thank you. Vouchers for future travel can help protect our guests from losing the full value of their flights, and improve the odds that over the longer term, consumer choice and diverse service offerings will remain in Canada’s air transportation sector.”
WestJet has extended the vouchers so that they can be used for up to 24 months.
“It’s been a bumpy road and almost a year after the pandemic took hold in Canada, we continue to proactively and responsibly manage our business through this crisis so that we can hasten our return to service and let our guests utilize these vouchers as soon as safely possible,” she says.
Avery adds: “As noted above, and worth repeating, Canada is now the only country with a major airline industry where the federal government has not provided sector specific support. Every country where there are refunds to original form of payment, there has been support beyond wage subsidies from the federal government.”