Mar 28, 2023
Some Flair customers say they're owed more after plane seizures, flight cancellations
The Canadian Press,
Taking Stock - Will air travel return to normalcy?
Flair Airlines said Monday it has reimbursed virtually all 1,900 passengers whose flights were cancelled after the seizure of four of the carrier's planes earlier this month, but some customers say they are owed more money.
Bailiffs repossessed Boeing 737 jets on which the discount carrier had overdue payments at airports in Toronto, Edmonton and Waterloo, Ont., in the early morning hours of March 11.
The seizures meant multiple flights that day had to be cancelled, sending customers scrambling to rebook on other airlines.
Kelly Butt was scheduled to take a Flair flight with her family from Toronto to Palm Springs, Calif. on the Saturday afternoon, but arrived roughly 30 hours later than planned due to the cancellation.
She and her husband, mother and two teenage kids took two separate flights to Calgary late Saturday night — Butt touched down at 12:30 a.m., two hours after the others — followed by a noon flight to San Diego and a two-and-a-half hour drive in a rental car Sunday, she said.
After numerous emails to the company, Butt said it agreed to reimburse her for the fares, but not the cost of a lost Airbnb reservation and a car rental, nor to fully compensate her for the last-minute cancellation.
Flair told her in an email she is "ineligible for any expenses associated with this flight change, including meals, hotel or the cost of transportation to a different city."
The Montreal Convention, a multilateral treaty applicable to international flights, states that airlines are generally liable for damages caused by delay of passengers, save for rare exceptions, according to Air Passenger Rights advocacy group president Gabor Lukacs.
After The Canadian Press sent questions about reimbursement Monday morning, Flair replied Monday evening that hundreds more refunds had been paid that day, with only eight remaining.
"We do not want any customer to feel frustrated and so our teams have been working hard to get the reimbursements paid," the airline said in a statement.
"In most cases, it required manual tabulation by our customer service team. Any remaining amounts outstanding to customers should be paid out within the next 48 hours."
No cash has landed in Butt's account so far, she said Tuesday, despite a pledge from the company on March 11 to reimburse all airfares within one week.
"Seven days have come and gone. We haven’t seen a penny," she said in an interview.
Some customers say Flair hasn't compensated them enough, and take issue with the airline's communication throughout the ordeal.
In an initial notification to passengers alerting them to the cancelled flights, Flair characterized them as the result of "unanticipated maintenance delays." That explanation falls under a regulatory loophole that relieves airlines of the requirement for compensation — distinct from reimbursement — if a delay or cancellation is prompted by a safety concern.
Flair said in a statement the email was a "miscommunication," and has told customers they are owed $125 in compensation for their cancelled flights.
"The majority of the compensation has been paid out," Flair said.
However, Butt believes she and her fellow travellers are owed more.
The Air Passenger Protection Regulations state that small carriers must compensate passengers $125 for delays of between three and six hours, $250 for delays of six to nine hours and $500 for cancellations and delays of nine hours or more.
"Because we arrived a lot after nine hours to our destination ... that is $500," said Butt. "But now they're telling us no, no, it's only $125 that you're entitled to."
“To this day, nobody from Flair has called us. They've emailed us a bunch, but it's been in circles because it seems like nobody is actually reading the information that we have been giving them."
Other Flair customers have voiced similar concerns on a Facebook group, though some have also reiterated the airline plans to refund them for rebooked flights.
The passenger rights charter says travellers who receive a refund are entitled to less compensation. But Lukacs of Air Passenger Rights says that only applies when the customer rebooks with the same airline or declines to rebook. If they opt for travel with another carrier, the rule has no bearing, he said.
"Airlines like to play this game of pushing the refund on passengers instead of providing alternate transportation," he said.
Lukacs also stressed that compensation issues in Canadian aviation are not unique to Flair.
"It's a broader, systemic problem."
This report by The Canadian Press was first published March 28, 2023.