August 10, 2020

Calgary Businessman Battles To Get $15,000 Refund From WestJet

(Global News) – Flier frustration is mounting in Canada as customers are issued airline vouchers — not refunds.

Calgary businessman Kevin Ripa has been battling with WestJet, for months, to get his money back.

“I had 19 trips that needed cancellation, and seven of those were with WestJet,” Ripa said.

“A little over $15,000 right now.”

Ripa, who owns cyber security company Computer Evidence Recovery Inc, said the majority of his trips were for business purposes. He added not only did he not get paid for those jobs, he also can’t get a refund for those trips.

“So now that I have all this money in the travel bank, what do I do with it? I make trips — just so I can burn it off? Or do I just give it to WestJet?”

Global News reached out to Calgary-based airline WestJet with Ripa’s concerns.

In a statement it said: “We value the feedback we are receiving from our guests and appreciate how difficult this unprecedented situation is for all.”

Spokesperson Morgan Bell added: “WestJet has consistently provided change/cancel options to all guests impacted by the COVID-19 crisis, including the ability to rebook flights with no change fee, to refund the full value of their flight to a WestJet Travel Bank valid for use within 24 months for bookings made directly with WestJet or to retain their full ticket value for a future flight for bookings made with travel agents. ”

WestJet also pointed out its stance on refunds aligns with federal regulations and guidance posted over the past three months by the Canadian Transportation Agency (CTA).

The CTA has said airline tariffs do not always provide for cash refunds, especially for situations beyond their (airlines’) control.

It has also explained why airlines in other countries do offer refunds — and Canada does not.

“The American and European legislative frameworks set a minimum obligation for airlines to issue refunds when flights are cancelled for reasons outside their control. Canada’s doesn’t.”

Ripa added it’s unfair as airlines aren’t the only ones impacted by the pandemic.

“I’m pretty lucky that it’s not going to put me out of business, but there’s people for whom a $15,000 loss would be quite significant,” he added.

“Let’s face it, when you give a company money, they provide a service. If they don’t provide a service or can’t, they give you your money back.”

Ripa is also concerned about what he called “mixed messages” when it comes to which flights are deemed ‘refundable’. He said he was told by WestJet that if it cancelled certain flights, he would be able to get his money back, but if he cancelled — he was out of luck.

WestJet did not respond to his claims.

Passenger rights groups have been battling the issue of travel credit vs. refunds for months now. We had Gabor Lukacs, who heads the advocacy group Air Passenger Rights, look over Ripa’s itineraries. He told Global News some of them would and should have been eligible for refunds.

Ripa, who is a high-tiered flier with WestJet’s loyalty program said if he is not refunded, he will not book with the airline again.

“If they don’t refund my money I will never darken the doors of another WestJet aircraft again — except to burn off those travel dollars.”