WestJet to start refunding flights cancelled amid COVID-19 pandemic

WestJet says it will begin providing refunds to passengers who had their WestJet and Swoop flights cancelled by the airlines as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic. Sarah Offin has details.

Editor’s note: A previous version of this story said cash refunds would not be available for basic fare tickets, based on information provided by WestJet. The airline later said basic fares would be included. This article has been updated based on the clarification. 

WestJet will be offering refunds to WestJet and Swoop passengers whose flights were cancelled as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic.

WestJet says it’s the first Canadian airline to provide cash refunds for all flights. It had previously offered refunds for specific flights only, with future flight credit available for the majority of cancelled flights.

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In an emailed statement, the airline said starting Monday, Nov. 2, eligible passengers will be contacted “proactively,” a process that will start with those whose flights were cancelled by the airline at the start of the pandemic, starting with trips booked for March.

“The refund process is expected to take six to nine months to work through eligible requests,” WestJet said.

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The airline said it also expects an “administrative backlog” as the process gets underway, and asked customers to be patient, and wait to be contacted rather than contacting the airline themselves.

Those looking for refunds for trips booked through WestJet Vacations are asked to continue following the process already in place.

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“We are an airline that has built its reputation on putting people first,” WestJet president and CEO Ed Sims said in a news release.

“We have heard loud and clear from the travelling public that in this COVID-19 world, they are looking for reassurance on two fronts: the safest possible travel environment; and refunds.

“We have been delivering on a safe environment through our Safety Above All program since the onset of the pandemic and as of Monday, Nov. 2, we will proactively provide refunds to original form of payment to itineraries cancelled by WestJet and Swoop.”

In a blog post on the WestJet website, Sims said the airline has been faced with a 95 per cent drop in demand, adding that for 72 days in a row, cancellations outnumbered bookings — a first in the company’s 25-year history.

Now, bookings are once again higher than cancellations, WestJet said, but still not on par with what they were before the pandemic hit.

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More than 140 of WestJet’s 181 planes are currently parked, Sims said, and more than 4,000 employees have been laid off.

The airline also suspended its service in Atlantic Canada earlier this month, citing the coronavirus pandemic as making the service “unviable.”

Late Wednesday evening, WestJet said the refunds would also be offered for basic fare tickets.

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In an emailed statement, Air Canada disputed WestJet’s claim that it was the first to offer refunds of this kind, saying “We have already refunded over $1.2 billion in refundable fares to date.”

“WestJet is just now catching up to our policy to refund refundable fares,” Air Canada said.

“And for customers with non-refundable tickets, we have the most generous and flexible voucher option.”

Vice-president of corporate communications Richard Bartrem said WestJet wasn’t sharing how much it expected to refund in cash to its customers.

— With files from The Canadian Press

© 2020 Global News, a division of Corus Entertainment Inc.

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