“In support of its travel agency partners, Air Canada will not retract agency sales commissions on refunded fares.”
That line, from Air Canada’s announcement of securing a $5.9 billion government financial aid package, marked the successful conclusion of months of negotiations with Ottawa. The multibillion-dollar pandemic rescue plan for the country’s largest airline is considered crucial not only for the survival of the carrier, but to rebuilding a healthy aviation industry.
For the advisors and trade associations who worked tirelessly advocating against a commission recall, the news comes as a lifeline.
As ACITA co-founder Brenda Slater put it: “We’re over the moon!”
Deputy Prime Minister Chrystia Freeland expressed Ottawa’s support for the trade during a media conference Monday evening with Minister of Transport Omar Alghabra.
“Significantly, travel agents who were paid commission for booking airline tickets will not be asked to repay that commission,” she said.
Air Canada’s revised COVID-19 refund policy also covers tickets and Air Canada Vacations packages purchased before 13APR, 2021 for flights cancelled either by the airline or by the customer for any reason.
For consumers, refunds for pandemic-related flight cancellations will begin by 30APR, 2021, Freeland said.
Refunds will be available for travel purchased on or before 22MAR, 2020 for travel after 01FEB, 2021 that was cancelled by either the passenger or the airline. Refunds will also be available for flights purchased after 22MAR, 2020 where the flight was cancelled by their airline.
The terms of the agreement also prohibit Air Canada from laying off additional employees.
“Air workers, jobs, pensions and collective agreements will be protected. At the same time, dividends and share buybacks are restricted and executive compensation is capped,” Freeland said.
More to Come on Status of Recalled Commissions: ACTA
“Our messages have been heard! We are very pleased that the government has heard our messages loud and clear about commission recalls— and that it has recognized the integral and important role that travel agents play in the industry,” said Wendy Paradis, President, ACTA.
“We were also very pleased to learn in a conversation with the Ministry of Transport, that commissions will be protected on both flights and tour packages.”
Paradis said there are more details to come on the status of commissions already recalled.
“We want to thank the government for recognizing the devastating effect recalling commissions would have had on travel agents,” said Paradis. “And we want to thank all in the travel agency community who have been tirelessly lobbying for this outcome.”
ACITA: “We Are Over the Moon”
ACITA has also been advocating for commission protection since it was formed in JUN 2020. The association of independent travel agents conducted Zoom meetings with over 200 Members of Parliament, Members of the Senate and Policy Advisors.
“We are over the moon that the Hon. Chrystia Freeland mentioned that the protection of travel advisors’ commissions was a significant piece of the deal. We would like to thank every single person that made a call, wrote an email, listened to our story and made this happen,” independent advisor and ACITA co-founder, Brenda Slater, said in a media statement. Judith Coates and Nancy Wilson co-founded ACITA along with Slater.
Unifor: Aid Package is a “Win-Win”
Unifor National President Jerry Dias said the relief package for Air Canada “provides a good balance of certainty for communities large and small, the company, and its workers.”
In an interview with CBC’s Power & Politics, Unifor called the agreement a “win-win” for the government, consumers, the industry and airline workers.
“You’ve got consumers [who] are winning because Air Canada is going to give back their refunds. Taxpayers are winning because these are straight loans, it’s not grants. And the federal government will take about $500 million worth of shares or six per cent ownership,” said Dias.
WestJet Confident in Self-Sufficiency, Continues Talks with Ottawa
In her address Monday, Freeland said the government is still negotiating aid packages for other airlines, including WestJet.
In a statement to Open Jaw, WestJet spokesperson Morgan Bell confirmed the company is in talks with the government and that it will provide updates on discussions with the Government of Canada “at the appropriate time.”
“The WestJet Group continues to operate self-sufficiently with the exception of the Canada Emergency Wage Subsidy, which flows through directly to our employees,” Bell said.
In OCT 2020, WestJet announced it would offer refunds to passengers whose travel plans were cancelled because of COVID-19. Last month, the airline announced plans to restore regional routes across Canada from JUN, which means it will soon once again fly its complete pre-COVID domestic network.
“We remain committed to building back even stronger for the betterment of all Canadians,” Bell said.