TORONTO – WestJet and Air Canada will soon resume selling all seats on their flights, ending their attempts at physical distancing – a decision that has forced many passengers to request refunds.
As of July 1, passengers will no longer be spaced on flights, as airlines will start selling the middle seats, once blocked in order to space passengers because of COVID-19.
But according to Gabor Lukacs, president of Air Passenger Rights, a travel advocacy group, customers who bought a ticket thinking they didn’t have someone seated in the adjacent seat are unlikely to see a refund if they choose not to not fly in the light of the decision. .
“I would say that passengers who have been misled into believing that there would be no one at the middle seat are entitled to a refund,” he told CTVNews.ca during a telephone interview.
“[But] I do not expect airlines to voluntarily part with their money, which is why I do not recommend traveling with Canadian airlines at this time. “
Under contract law, Lukacs said, passengers should have grounds for complaint because they expected a different experience when purchasing their tickets than actual experience. However, he doubts that anyone can convince an airline to end it.
“They don’t refund tickets for canceled flights,” he said, adding that he expects airlines to “give passengers a hard time” if they try to get a refund. for the change of seat policy, even if the airlines have “renounced”[d] on their promise not to have anyone else sit next to them. “
Passengers will always receive temperature checks before boarding and masks will be mandatory. But experts note that, despite these measures, consumers still take a risk.
“We do the best screening possible, we wear the best masks we can, we keep them on all night when we take a night flight and things like that”, Dr. Ronald St. John, Director General of the Public Health Agency from Canada, said CTV News.
“And we hope the risk is minimal. It will not be zero. “
Uncomfortable ticket holders boarding a packed plane can book for free, the airlines say.
Normally, if an airline cancels a flight itself, this is the only time a passenger can get a refund, unless they want to request a credit instead.
However, Canadian airlines were criticized during the pandemic for refusing refunds to customers in many cases and offering only coupons.
“After stealing money from passengers, Canadian airlines are now ready to play Russian roulette with the lives of passengers to make money,” said Lukacs.
Several airlines operating outside the United States are also saying goodbye to physical distance.
American Airlines is slated to begin selling each seat on its flights on July 1, and United Airlines has been flying without physical distance for at least a month and a half. A photo of an airplane filled with passengers, allegedly a United Airlines flight, attracted a lot of traffic and outrage when it was posted on Twitter in early May.
Although Transport Canada recommends physical distance on flights to prevent the spread of COVID-19, it is not a law.
On the WestJet website, the airline declares that they have decided to end the blocking of adjacent seats because they follow the guidelines of the International Air Transport Association (IATA) for world health and safety.
They say the IATA guidelines support the removal of physical distance because they already offer other protections against the virus, such as HEPA filters to clean the recirculated air, the air flow being directed to the high rather than forward or backward, and “the physical barrier of the seat backs”.
IATA, Lukacs said, is not a health organization, but an association of airlines which he says serves the financial interests of the airlines.
“I do not hear a clear and obvious explanation from the airlines, and I have not seen any scientific research that would justify what the airlines do,” he said. “What the airlines do puts not only the passengers themselves at risk, but also anyone who comes into contact with them at their destination.
“There is a reason why there is a social distance requirement at the airport terminal, on the buses, […] even outside, “he added. “What could be better in terms of safety than being outside?” When you have a lot of fresh air around you, constant air circulation – and they always tell you to stay two meters from another person. “
The decision to end physical distance on flights is not a decision that customers take lightly.
Many have flooded social media with complaints and concerns, demanding explanations – and refunds – from Air Canada and WestJet.
“I just read that @WestJet has canceled its seat distancing policy? Is that true? I booked my elderly mom on one of your flights because of this policy.” a Twitter user wrote. “I hope you plan to offer a full refund as this is NOT acceptable. Profit on people seems to be the protocol. “
Another user wrote that he had waited three hours waiting to speak to WestJet representatives, but received no help.
“[They] informed me that no reimbursement would be made and that no special seating would be made for BABIES WHO CANNOT WEAR MASKS, ”wrote Twitter user Alex Willis. “Shameful. I hope @GovCanHealth @transportc has a reasonable explanation for this.”
Lukacs stressed that the burden of this situation is not only on the airlines themselves, noting that the government could intervene to demand reimbursements or impose physical distance on flights.
“The problem is not just the airlines. The problem is the federal government, “he said.
“The federal government is abdicating its role in protecting public health in this situation. The real problem I see is that the federal government is allowing this to happen. “
His advice? Don’t risk it.
“For this summer, it should be a suspension. You can have a wonderful vacation at home or maybe in your own province. ”