WestJet says it will begin providing refunds to all its passengers whose flights were cancelled due to the pandemic.
The Calgary-based airline said it will begin contacting all eligible flyers with WestJet and Swoop on Nov. 2. It will begin with those whose flights were cancelled in March 2020 at the onset of the pandemic, to offer them refunds in their original form of payment.
The process is expected to take six to nine months, the company said. It asked customers to wait to be contacted, in order to avoid overloading its call centre.
“We are an airline that has built its reputation on putting people first,” said Ed Sims, WestJet president and CEO, in an emailed release.
“We have heard loud and clear from the travelling public that in this COVID world they are looking for reassurance on two fronts: the safest possible travel environment, and refunds.”
Sims said in a letter posted to the company’s website that since March, the company has done everything it can to reduce costs in the face of a 95 per cent drop in demand.
“Up until this point, quite plainly, the financial position of airlines around the world has been precarious,” Sims said.
“We went 72 days in a row where cancellations outstripped bookings, something that has not happened — ever — in our almost 25-year history. Thankfully, we are seeing bookings higher than cancellations now but still at a level that sees more than 140 of the 181 aircraft in our fleet parked and more than 4,000 WestJetters permanently laid off.”
The company said it’s the first national airline in the country to proactively begin refunding customers during the pandemic.
The airline industry in Canada has lost billions due to border closures and grounded flights during COVID-19.
Up until now, most Canadian airlines have offered travel vouchers to passengers with cancelled flights. The vouchers were redeemable for two years.
The lack of cash refunds have led to petitions and even possible class action lawsuits against the industry.
The Canadian Transportation Agency issued a statement in April saying that given the unprecedented nature of the pandemic, vouchers were a reasonable alternative to refunds.