Air Canada held a virtual Town Hall for the trade on Tuesday to not only clarify the information on refunds for flights cancelled due to the pandemic, but to also announce a new policy where future flights cancelled by either the carrier or the passenger will be eligible for a refund, a future travel voucher or Aeroplan Points.
Air Canada’s Lucie Guillemette, Executive Vice President and Chief Commercial Officer, who was named President of Air Canada Vacations today, spoke with candour about the difficulties of the past year for the entire industry and the challenges in planning the future.
Whether it’s dealing with new variants, ever changing expiration dates for travel restrictions or predicting consumer demand, the airline is basing decisions on reasonable assumptions using current knowledge.
Hotel quarantines will likely not be extended beyond the end of June. Market segments such as VFR and leisure will be the first to bounce back. And sun routes are expected to pick up in the fourth quarter.
EXPANDED REFUND POLICY
To stimulate future demand and instill consumer confidence, Air Canada announced it is offering refunds on all fares, including non-refundable fares, issued as of 13APR, 2021 — and agents are able to retain their commissions on the booking.
Guillemette made it clear this policy goes beyond the obligations stipulated by the federal government.
“We are refunding slightly beyond what was announced yesterday, by choice,” Guillemette said. “Under the agreement, Air Canada was not obligated to refund this segment, but we recognize how stressful and difficult the time was, so we elected to process these refunds. We are putting out a new policy to provide our customers with confidence they can go ahead and book for future travel with the assurance that should flights be cancelled, this refund issue is not something they will need to deal with.”
Air Canada’s new refund policy also covers customers with non-refundable fares whose flights were cancelled or who voluntarily cancelled their travel due to COVID-19 purchased between 01FEB 2020 and 13APR, 2021.
In addition to the expanded refund policy, Air Canada customers will continue to have the option of accepting a fully transferrable Air Canada Travel Voucher (ACTV) with no expiry date or converting the value of their ticket to Aeroplan points with a 65% bonus. Customers who have already accepted an ACTV or Aeroplan points will have the option to exchange these for a refund to the original form of payment, including for the unused portion of any ACTV issued or in cases where a partial refund was provided.
Customers have 60 days to request a refund and most will be processed very quickly. Tickets with partially flown segments or interline with other carriers will be processed manually and will take longer to be refunded.
Travel advisors will retain their ticketing commission on tickets issued from 01FEB 2020.
“I want to stress we know the past year has been as difficult for you as it has been for all of us. Each decision we make, we try to consider the implications on our industry partners,” Guillemette said.
“Even if our desire to refund goes slightly beyond what was prescribed by our agreement (with the federal government), we will not recall commissions for those cancellations either. We will treat them equally as we will the other refunds.”
According to Guillemette, AC will be processing in excess of two million PNRs, and urges the trade to be patient as it could take up to five months to have everything completed.
Joining the town hall were Lisa Pierce, V.P. Canada & USA Sales and Nino Montagnese, V.P. Air Canada Vacations.
Pierce reflected on the support from the industry as well as months of work the sales team put into orchestrating the roll-out of the new policies: “We recognize the tremendous work efforts this is going to require with little notice to prepare. The entire sales team is mobilized and ready to support you.”
Adding that “at 8:00 a.m. this morning, we processed the first refunds.”
Montagnese stressed that the same policies which apply to air apply to packages booked with ACV. Group bookings are also eligible. As far as cruise bookings are concerned, the air portion is refundable but the cruise portion is in the hands of the cruise line.
Despite the cautious optimism displayed by all three participants, when asked what, if anything, can Air Canada do to influence the rigorous travel restrictions, Guillemette assured viewers that the carrier has been an active player and present at the table in government discussions. However, concern for safety trumps commercial requirements and it is impossible to provide assurances as to when restrictions will be lifted. Adding that “there is no doubt the acceleration of vaccinations in Canada will help move the demand curve.”
It should be noted that a special shout out was given to ACTA’s Wendy Paradis for her tireless advocacy work with the government as well as other advisors who lobbied on behalf of the industry.
As Nino said in closing, “we are seeing positive signs and by the end of the summer we should experience some level of normalcy. Together, we will see the industry return.”