Scoring an Air Canada refund during the pandemic has been nearly impossible. The airline has consistently ignored the Department of Transportation’s refund rules for most of the past 20 months. Instead, the carrier has been automatically issuing flight credits — even when it owes passengers cash refunds.
Which makes this story particularly improbable…but true.
Renette Frank was one of the lucky ones who actually received her Air Canada refund last year. So imagine her surprise when the airline recently sent her another $4,282. Even more surprising: When she tried to return the extra money, the airline made that impossible, too.
Now she’s asking the Elliott Advocacy team to help facilitate the return of the duplicate Air Canada refund.
This case is from our “Weird and Silly” files for Thanksgiving. Readers often ask why company mistakes never lean in favor of the customer. But the truth is, we do receive these types of cases from time to time. And, unbelievably, these consumers have hit the same frustrating hurdles as we’ve seen in our standard cases. Here Air Canada made a mistake and sent Frank a refund that it had already given her. So why is the airline making it so difficult to return the cash? Should she just keep it??
Going on a Disney Alaskan cruise — until the pandemic
Before the current global pandemic, Frank had planned to take her family on a Disney cruise to Alaska.
Unfortunately, soon after she booked her trip, the coronavirus hit the world hard. Cruises were quickly identified as superspreaders of the virus. On March 14, the entire industry ground to a halt. Initially, it was thought that the shutdown would last for about 30 days. In reality, it would be almost 15 months before another cruise ship would set sail.
But at that time and into early summer, Frank held out hope that they would be able to take the much-anticipated Disney cruise.
“Due to my age, that cruise was to be my traveling swan song,” Frank told me. “It was going to be a great adventure for all of us!”
Of course, the pandemic completely ruined Frank’s swan song. By July, Disney had canceled the cruise, and there was no anticipated date for a replacement trip.
Expecting a refund from Air Canada for the canceled flight
Unlike many travelers who panicked at the beginning of the pandemic and preemptively canceled cruise plans, Frank waited it out. As a result, when the coronavirus forced Disney to cancel her family’s trip, the cruise line owed her a full refund. Which it quickly paid.
Disney was wonderful. We got our money back immediately. But Air Canada refused to give me a refund even though it had canceled my flight. They wanted me to take vouchers. I didn’t want an Air Canada flight credit, and I knew I was entitled to my money back. But they made me fight for it.
And fight she did.
First, Frank escalated her refund request up the corporate ladder at Air Canada. Next, she filed a complaint with the Department of Transportation. She also sent a note to the Canadian ambassador in her hometown of Chicago.
“I don’t know what finally did it, but Air Canada eventually issued me a refund for my canceled flight,” Frank recalled. “They refunded $5,352 — the total cost of all the tickets.”
Having received a full refund for both the cruise and the flights of the canceled trip, Frank considered the matter concluded.
That is until nearly six months later.
Surprise! Here’s another Air Canada refund for you!
Last September, Frank was scrolling through her credit card statement. Suddenly, her eyes were drawn to an unexpected charge of $4,282 from Air Canada.
But upon closer inspection, she realized that the “charge” wasn’t a charge at all. It was a credit — another refund from Air Canada. Frank immediately picked up the phone.
I wanted to let Air Canada know about its mistake — that I had already received my refund. I wasn’t even sure where this number came from. Our tickets were over $5,000. But I just wanted the airline to take it back. However, the recorded message said the wait time was nearly two hours.
Frank hung up the phone. Sure, she wanted to return the cash. But she wasn’t about to wait for two hours just to help the airline correct its mistake.
Next, Frank tried to email Air Canada and let them know where they could find their misdirected money. But that turned out to be impossible as well.
“Air Canada doesn’t accept unsolicited emails,” Frank reported. “To submit a message, I needed information that I didn’t have.”
Air Canada had set up a system that made it virtually impossible for Frank to easily reach anyone within the company.
“All I wanted to do was do the right thing and return the money to Air Canada,” Frank recalled. “I was getting so frustrated.”
Can Citibank help return the extra Air Canada refund?
Several days later and still getting nowhere fast with the airline, Frank turned her attention to her credit card company, Citi. Certainly, the company should be able to send the extra refund back to Air Canada, she thought.
“I called Citi, and I explained the situation,” Frank explained. “The agents acted as if they had never encountered such a request before.”
Frank says she was transferred to various departments within the credit card company. Eventually, a supervisor informed her that it wasn’t possible to refund the money to Air Canada.
He [the Citi supervisor] told me that they have no mechanism to return unwanted credit. The agent said I should contact Air Canada and ask them to take it back.
So after several wasted hours trying to correct Air Canada’s mistake, Frank found herself right back where she began. She gave up and decided to leave the situation be for the time-being.
Several weeks later when the credit still remained on Frank’s Citi card, she thought of one other way that she might be able to resolve this bizarre problem. She decided to submit her request for help to the Elliott Advocacy team.
Making an unusual request to the Elliott Advocacy team
When I received Frank’s request for help, I assumed she was asking for help to retrieve a missing Air Canada refund. Since early on in the pandemic, we’ve been receiving plenty of those types of requests. Our case files show that Air Canada had blatantly ignored the Department of Transportation’s enforcement order of April 3, 2020.
In that notification, the DOT made it clear that airline carriers operating into or out of the United States must provide cash refunds in the case of an airline-initiated flight cancellation. Before that point, other airlines had also been ignoring the DOT’s refund rules and were automatically sticking passengers with vouchers instead of refunds.
For the most part, that bad behavior ended after the enforcement notice.
But Air Canada appeared undeterred by the DOT’s warning and continued to violate the refund regulations.
Now it’s finally time for Air Canada to pay the piper.
In July of this year, the DOT filed a notice that it sought to fine Air Canada over $25 million for its violations. In that document, the DOT noted that it had received approximately 6,000 complaints concerning Air Canada “delaying” refunds.
This week, Air Canada agreed to pay $4.5 million to the US Department of Transportation for these violations.
This is good news for the long list of passengers waiting for their refunds from Air Canada. The order will most assuredly speed that compensation process along.
Why is Air Canada making this so hard, too?
But Frank had had the opposite experience with the airline. Not only had she received the refund Air Canada owed her, but she had received an additional $4,282.
I don’t even know where Air Canada got that figure. It’s a random number. It isn’t what I paid for the tickets. But I’m very frustrated. I just want to do the right thing and give back this money. It’s not mine. But I shouldn’t have to work so hard to do the right thing. Can you help me?
Reading through Frank’s paper trail, I saw striking similarities between her struggle and those of the passengers on the opposite side of the refund issue.
What’s clear is that Air Canada makes it extremely difficult for its customers to reach any real person within the company. That’s true, regardless of the reason customers are trying to contact the airline.
But we do have a real person at Air Canada who is easy to reach. So I knew that I could quickly put an end to Frank’s struggle. I was confident that our friends at Air Canada would want to know about this $4,282 refund sent in error.
Not a surprise: Air Canada would like to take this money back
I have a very unusual case to give to you today. This passenger, Renette Frank, says Air Canada refunded her $4,282 in error!! Citibank isn’t helping her to return the money, so she’s asking us to help facilitate. (Michelle to Air Canada)
Just as I suspected, I heard back from our contact quite quickly. Air Canada, of course, was happy to retrieve the money from Frank’s account.
Thanks so much, we will look into it and make sure we send thanks to the customer for bringing this to our attention. (Air Canada to Michelle)
And soon, the giant credit was removed from Frank’s Citi account.
Frank is delighted to be able to put this bizarre situation to rest. And, I guess Air Canada can put the $4,282 refund toward that $4.5 million DOT fine! 😜
Four steps to get your Air Canada refund now
If Air Canada issued you a flight credit instead of a cash refund for a canceled flight during the pandemic, now is the time to fix that “mistake.” By fining Air Canada, the Department of Transportation made it clear that the airline’s actions were wrong; passengers should not bear the airline’s financial problems brought on by the pandemic.
Here’s how to get your refund from Air Canada now in four steps.
- Verify that Air Canada owes you a refund
Keep in mind, if you canceled your reservation even an hour before the airline did, Air Canada doesn’t owe you a refund. Resubmitting a refund request after you’ve canceled a flight will not result in a better outcome. So make sure you’re owed a refund before you start down this path. Air Canada owes you a refund only if you received a flight cancellation notice from the airline, not if you canceled on your own initiative.
- Find your flight cancellation notification
To prove that Air Canada owes you a refund, you’ll need the flight cancellation notification you received. If you never received a flight notification, there is a strong possibility that your flight wasn’t canceled. Unfortunately, many travelers misunderstood the border restrictions during the pandemic and assumed international air travel had ceased entirely. This was never the case, but it caused passengers to be no-shows on flights that did operate. To qualify for a refund, you must be able to show that Air Canada canceled your flight.
- Submit (or resubmit) your refund request to Air Canada
If you’re certain that Air Canada canceled your flight, your next step is to submit (or resubmit) your refund request. Using the Air Canada executive email contacts that we list in our directory, and using Christopher’s consumer problem-solving guide as a reference, make your new refund request.
- Escalate your complaint to the Department of Transportation
Given the fine that Air Canada received this week for not providing passenger refunds after canceled flights, it isn’t likely that your request will be ignored. However, if it is, your next step is to file your complaint against Air Canada with the DOT. If you really are owed a refund from Air Canada, that move will likely give the airline the nudge it needs to process it for you. Here’s how to file your complaint with the Department of Transportation. (Michelle Couch-Friedman, Elliott Advocacy)
And of course, anytime you need some moral support or guidance, the Elliott Advocacy team is always here to help. Happy Thanksgiving!!
*Before you go: This mistake by Air Canada may have been annoying to Frank, but what happens if the airline makes a mistake that ends in a passenger being put in a two-week quarantine in South Korea?