Skip to main content
Canada’s most-awarded newsroom for a reason
Enjoy unlimited digital access
$1.99
per week
for 24 weeks
Canada’s most-awarded newsroom for a reason
$1.99
per week
for 24 weeks
// //

WestJet Boeing 737 Max aircraft are shown at the airline's facilities in Calgary, Alta., on May 7, 2019.

Jeff McIntosh/The Canadian Press

WestJet Airlines Ltd. has quietly changed its refund policy to allow some customers whose flights were cancelled due to the pandemic to recoup their cash.

The move appears to make WestJet the first major Canadian carrier to offer refunds rather than credit to passengers whose trips were called off due to the COVID-19 crisis.

The pivot follows months of backlash as consumer advocates and thousands of passengers continue to demand their money back for services paid for but never rendered.

Story continues below advertisement

Three petitions – two were presented to the House of Commons over the past month – with more than 110,000 signatures call for full refunds before any financial aid is handed out to airlines.

WestJet’s refund offer, spelled out in a document sent to travel agents and obtained by The Canadian Press, applies to flights that include a U.S. or U.K. city as the destination or origin.

The company said in an e-mail it is reaching out to customers who have already accepted travel credit to alert them to the new option, which applies to all fares and classes but not vacation packages.

The policy does not include flights within Canada or to continental Europe, Mexico or the Caribbean.

“If your client chose to voluntarily cancel their booking, they are not eligible for a refund to original form of payment,” with the exception of certain special fares, the memo states.

Transportation authorities in the United States and European Union have required airlines, including foreign ones, to offer refunds for flights cancelled as a result of the pandemic, which has shuttered borders and grounded fleets.

Unlike its American and many European counterparts, Ottawa has also held off on handing out grants or loans particular to the airline sector, turning instead to a wage subsidy accessible to most employers and loans starting at $60 million for large companies.

Story continues below advertisement

Nonetheless, a group of advocates are demanding the government take “immediate action” and calling Canada’s relative laxity “unacceptable.”

“The rights of these consumers to a refund and to fair treatment should not be trumped by the private interests of large corporations,” the group said in a public letter Thursday. “It is not the consumers’ responsibility to prop up businesses.”

The six associations behind the statement said imposing travel vouchers instead of cash refunds contravenes federal law as well as provincial consumer protection legislation.

“It’s quite disturbing,” said air passenger rights advocate Gabor Lukacs, calling customers’ airfares “effectively an interest-free loan from the public.”

“For heaven’s sake, people need the money now for buying groceries, for paying bills, for paying taxes.”

WestJet said its previous non-refundable cancellation policy “was what we were able to offer at that time...due to the ever-changing landscape we are faced with.

Story continues below advertisement

“We are carefully monitoring the regulatory frameworks in all its operated jurisdictions,” it said.

Travel agencies see WestJet’s move as a net positive, despite its limited scope.

“It’s definitely great news. It’s different,” said Pam deHaan, director of marketing for Hamilton-based Travel Central.

“We as a travel agency have kind of been stuck in the middle with consumers and clients wanting to get refunds, and we don’t have their money but they don’t understand that, and if we can we’ll refund them.”

Customers who want their money back will have to reach out to the agency, rather than receiving funds automatically, she said.

The policy change memo landed in her inbox on June 1, she said.

Story continues below advertisement

The refunds apply to U.S. and U.K. flights that were scheduled between March 1 and June 30, with a processing time of four to six weeks, according to the document.

Last month, Air Canada revised its cancellation policy amid mounting customer frustration, offering travellers the option of a voucher with no expiration date or Aeroplan points if the airline cancels their flight due to the virus.

The new policy – the previous one capped travel vouchers at 24 months, with no Aeroplan option – applies to non-refundable tickets issued up to the end of June, with an original travel date between March 1 and June 30.

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said last month the government needs to have “some very careful discussions with airlines” as well as Canadians to maintain a balance where travellers are “treated fairly” and the sector stays intact.

Your time is valuable. Have the Top Business Headlines newsletter conveniently delivered to your inbox in the morning or evening. Sign up today.

Your Globe

Build your personal news feed

  1. Follow topics and authors relevant to your reading interests.
  2. Check your Following feed daily, and never miss an article. Access your Following feed from your account menu at the top right corner of every page.

Follow topics related to this article:

View more suggestions in Following Read more about following topics and authors
Report an error
Due to technical reasons, we have temporarily removed commenting from our articles. We hope to have this fixed soon. Thank you for your patience. If you are looking to give feedback on our new site, please send it along to feedback@globeandmail.com. If you want to write a letter to the editor, please forward to letters@globeandmail.com.

Welcome to The Globe and Mail’s comment community. This is a space where subscribers can engage with each other and Globe staff. Non-subscribers can read and sort comments but will not be able to engage with them in any way. Click here to subscribe.

If you would like to write a letter to the editor, please forward it to letters@globeandmail.com. Readers can also interact with The Globe on Facebook and Twitter .

Welcome to The Globe and Mail’s comment community. This is a space where subscribers can engage with each other and Globe staff. Non-subscribers can read and sort comments but will not be able to engage with them in any way. Click here to subscribe.

If you would like to write a letter to the editor, please forward it to letters@globeandmail.com. Readers can also interact with The Globe on Facebook and Twitter .

Welcome to The Globe and Mail’s comment community. This is a space where subscribers can engage with each other and Globe staff.

We aim to create a safe and valuable space for discussion and debate. That means:

  • Treat others as you wish to be treated
  • Criticize ideas, not people
  • Stay on topic
  • Avoid the use of toxic and offensive language
  • Flag bad behaviour

If you do not see your comment posted immediately, it is being reviewed by the moderation team and may appear shortly, generally within an hour.

We aim to have all comments reviewed in a timely manner.

Comments that violate our community guidelines will not be posted.

UPDATED: Read our community guidelines here

Discussion loading ...

To view this site properly, enable cookies in your browser. Read our privacy policy to learn more.
How to enable cookies