By: Ann Ruppenstein
Even though Air Canada has “both feet grounded in the reality that our recovery could take some time,” Lucie Guillemette said the airline also has “every reason to be optimistic about the future.”
Air Canada’s Executive Vice President and Chief Commercial Officer — and the newly announced President of Air Canada Vacations — addressed the travel trade during a recent town hall meeting following the news that a long awaited deal between Air Canada and the Canadian government had been reached.
Citing the impact vaccinations have had on plane loads in the US as just one example, she said “it should give us all hope and optimism that our time will come as well.”
Guillemette kicked off the meeting outlining several key takeaways for travel advisors about its new refund and commissions policy for flights impacted by COVID-19. Notably, the scope of refunds also applies to customers who voluntarily chose to cancel non refundable tickets, not just flights cancelled by Air Canada.
“This agreement will lead us to restart some of the domestic stations effective June 1, which had been suspended during COVID, and, of course, of great interest to all of you is the refund file,” Guillemette said. “Let me provide a little bit more clarity as we will actually be refunding slightly beyond what was announced April 12 and this is by choice. Let me explain: for bookings made between Feb. 1, 2020 and April 12, 2021, we will be refunding customers who chose to select a refund, whether the cancellation was made by Air Canada, or if the cancellation was made by our customer.”
Refund requests for all fares for flights affected by COVID-19 since Feb. 1, 2020 can be submitted through www.aircanada.com/refund over a 60 day period until June 12, 2021, many of which will be processed instantaneously.
“We are also pleased to share with all of you that we will not be recalling commissions for refunds… We know that the past year has been as difficult for all of you as it has been for us. Although the process was lengthy, please trust that every decision we make, we try to the best of our ability to consider all the implications on our industry partners,” she added. “I also want to make sure it was understood that even if our desire to refund slightly beyond what was prescribed by our agreement, for those cancellations, we will not be recalling commission either.”
In terms of magnitude, Guillemette expects in excess of 2 million PNRs.
“Certainly in our industry when it comes to tickets and tasks, the devil is often in the details,” she added. “As I mentioned, we’re geared up, we’re ready to proceed with the processing of these refunds and we’re committed to doing this as quickly as we can.”
Lisa M. Pierce, Vice President, Canada and USA Sales, at Air Canada, pointed out that agents will be able to keep their Time of Ticketing commissions.
“The scope of the policy is comprehensive, covering unused and partially used tickets, Air Canada Travel Vouchers received or requested, Aeroplan points, e-coupons, flight passes, and groups, just to name a few,” Pierce added. “Notably, we are the only airline in Canada to be refunding customers who voluntarily cancelled their travel for any reason during the COVID period.”
Pierce also outlined Air Canada’s revised refund policy for tickets purchased after April 13.
“If Air Canada cancels a flight for any reason, and is unable to rebook a customer within three hours, the customer will be eligible for a refund,” she said. “We sincerely hope this will lead to increased customer confidence in booking with Air Canada, knowing they can get their money back if we cancel the flight.”
Alternatively, customers will continue to have the option of accepting a fully transferable Air Canada Travel Voucher (ACTV) with no expiry date or converting the value of their ticket to Aeroplan points with a 65% bonus.
“We want as much as possible to get this all behind us so getting the request for the refund within 60 days is very important and we expect they would all be processed by the agency within 90 days,” she said. “We have put a lot of steps in place to make this as seamless as possible for you to make that happen, but ultimately we definitely want to get this behind us and be set up for success to start the summer off with a clean slate and a bright future.”
A follow up event is planned for April 19 to check in after a week of processing refunds, where the team also intends to have answers to questions about mitigating concerns surrounding net tickets.
Nino Montagnese, Vice President, Air Canada Vacations, noted that ACV will be matching refunds and not recalling commissions on packaged bookings, including for groups, for all eligible customers.
“It really has always been our top priority to make sure that our trade partners have all the tools that they need. Here we are now with refunds being processed and I want to assure you that we will have them run as smoothly as possible for you,” he said. “What we’re going to be doing is we will be sending out an email to all agencies that have all eligible customers detailed in that email. We will also advise you how and where to request that refund for your clients.”
When it comes to cruise bookings, he said the air portion would be refunded but the cruise portion would be through the cruise lines.
In addition to CareFlex Plus coverage, Montagnese highlighted that ACV extended its COVID protection to Oct. 31 on all of its land destinations worldwide, whereas previously it was restricted to its Sun product.
“We’re hoping that we don’t have to extend it beyond that, but if the need arises we definitely will extend that as well,” he said.
Now that the airline has financial support and refunds are underway, Guillemette said the team can focus on the next step, which is Air Canada’s recovery. Guillemette predicts that Canadians will know within the next week or so if the government intends to extend the hotel quarantine measures, and whether it goes to May or June.
“It’s unknown at this point in time but our assumption is that we would not be living in an environment where there are hotel restrictions in the longer term,” she said. “With respect to international, basically having foreign nationals being permitted to come into the country, our assumption is that a vaccine protocol or a testing-on-arrival policy will most likely be in order. At this point in time, our belief is that we’re probably looking at an end of summer time frame to see some of that demand return.”
Refund is applicable on:
Agents’ Time of Ticketing commission will not be recalled when they process the refund on behalf of the mutual customer, provided: