Why I’m filing a DOT complaint against Air Canada

My wife is Canadian so I have an affinity for Canadians and have visited our northern neighbors dozens of times. In pre-COVID-19 times, I would go to Toronto at least five times a year and in fact, we were supposed to be there right now! Then, on May 20 we were scheduled to fly to New York City/Connecticut to visit my family before going on an epic road trip to Boston and flying back to Los Angeles.

Even though I have elite status on American Airlines (my family and I would have gotten free checked bags and premium seat assignments) I booked the hour-long flight on Air Canada for a few reasons: The fare was much cheaper than American’s, the timing was better, the Airbus A320 plane is much larger and is a nicer plane than American’s regional jets, and Air Canada has way more flights a day—so if ours got canceled at the last minute, we wouldn’t be hanging out in the airport with two little kids all day long.

Related: My Experience Calling 5 Different Airlines for Refunds

Obviously, due to the current global pandemic, we aren’t traveling, so when I called Air Canada’s 800-number to get a refund on April 3, the nice agent in an overseas call center said, “Air Canada’s policy is not to give a refund even if the flight cancels.” I told him about the U.S. Department of Transportation rule (which I state a few paragraphs down) but he didn’t care. Since our flight hadn’t been canceled and was only delayed, I decided not to press him.

A few days later, I received an email from Air Canada stating: “We regret to inform you that AC8292 from Toronto, Lester B. Pearson Intl (YYZ) to New York, Laguardia (LGA) on May 20, 2020 has been cancelled due to the impacts of COVID-19, government travel advisories and/or health and safety concerns.” The email also stated: “If you do not need to rebook immediately, you can keep the remaining value of your ticket for future travel. This is valid for travel to be completed within 24 months of your flight cancellation date. If you purchased a non-refundable fare, please note that you are not eligible for a refund.”

This time, I decided to take to Twitter so I sent Air Canada a direct message and they replied right away. “Hello Johnny, Thank you for reaching out to us. We regret to inform you that effective March 19, 2020, for all schedule changes occurring on/after March 19, 2020, refunds are no longer permitted. Since your flight has been cancelled, you will receive full credit, which you can use towards future travel. This credit is valid for travel within 24 months of your flight cancellation date. Upon re-booking, there will be no change fee, however, the difference in fare will be applicable per passenger. Regards, Air Canada Social Media /Charlie”

I responded with, “Thanks for the prompt reply! Just to be clear so Air Canada isn’t going to abide by the DOT’s rules?” I wasn’t surprised when they didn’t respond.

The U.S. Department of Transportation rules
Speaking of the Department of Transportation rules, on April 3 the DOT had to create an enforcement notice to clarify the long-standing law because a couple of U.S. airlines (ahem, United and JetBlue) and international airlines were not complying. Here’s what they wrote:

“The U.S. Department of Transportation today issued an Enforcement Notice clarifying, in the context of the 2019 Novel Coronavirus (COVID-19) public health emergency, that U.S. and foreign airlines remain obligated to provide a prompt refund to passengers for flights to, within, or from the United States when the carrier cancels the passenger’s scheduled flight or makes a significant schedule change and the passenger chooses not to accept the alternative offered by the carrier. The obligation of airlines to provide refunds, including the ticket price and any optional fee charged for services a passenger is unable to use, does not cease when the flight disruptions are outside of the carrier’s control (e.g., a result of government restrictions).”

RELATED: Coronavirus Resource Page for Travelers

Notice I highlighted that it includes foreign airlines? Air Canada is well aware of the rule but is flat-out ignoring it. And I’m not alone in writing about it. The L.A. Times last week wrote a piece trying to help a reader who had the exact same problem, though their reader made an even bigger mistake of booking Air Canada through Expedia because they both blame each other. The L.A. Times‘s advice is to file a complaint with the DOT by clicking this link or going to bit.ly/DOTcomplaint. As the astute travel editor Catharine Hamm wrote, “That may not lead to a resolution, but it will at least record a submission of the dissatisfaction.”

If enough people complain to the DOT, Air Canada will be fined, which will end up costing them way more than what it would have if they had just done the right thing in the first place.

What will lead to short-term results is calling your credit card company and asking for a chargeback. I just did it this weekend (May 9, 2020) even though I booked the tickets on January 29. I used the Chase Sapphire Reserve and was only on hold for a couple of minutes. The agent was based in India (BTW: I asked how she was doing with the lockdown and she said good and that they’re on day 45 and everyone is working from home). It took her just a few minutes to file a claim and issued a temporary credit for the $418 I paid, which she said should show up in 48 hours. I’ll know for sure if it’s granted in a couple of weeks.

I obviously made a big mistake by booking Air Canada. I’m kicking myself because something that would have taken me literally a few minutes to fix with American Airlines has taken a ridiculous amount of time and frustration dealing with Air Canada. Who would have thought that Air Canada would flat-out deny giving refunds while American Airlines would be stellar on that front? Not me!

P.S. I understand the U.S. airlines were counting on the billion-dollar bailout, which they received, and Air Canada has yet to receive one.

UPDATE: A couple readers (below) have asked good questions: If you travel so much to Canada why can’t you just use the flight voucher another time. Here’s my answer “I don’t normally fly Air Canada because I don’t have elite status so I can’t get free upgrades to first class or even economy with extra legroom. When I’m with my family and they check bags it costs much more since I get free checked bags with American. But the biggest reasons are we don’t know if this virus will be over by then and sadly I need the money. Revenue to the site has dropped off a cliff.

Have you had problems getting a refund with Air Canada?

Please leave a comment below sharing what your experience was like dealing with them.

UPDATE (May 19, 2020): I still haven’t heard back from Chase so I reached out to Air Canada (via Twitter to avoid their long hold times) to see if they changed their policy after the DOT issued another order. They responded within an hour that they did not. When I told them we wouldn’t be on the flight tomorrow they asked if I wanted to cancel to avoid losing my money and take the travel voucher (good for two years). I said I would because I didn’t want to risk losing the hard earned cash. I’m also hoping Chase comes through so I don’t have to worry about cashing in the voucher and get a full refund.



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34 Comments On "Why I’m Filing a DOT Complaint Against Air Canada"
  1. David E Hartzell|

    I have same problem with AC and filed a complaint with DOT several weeks ago. They recently replied with a bunch of goobly gook that basically said not much is going to happen.

  2. Anne|

    I understand the frustration, but if you fly 5 times a years (usually) then does it really matter? You can use the ticket on a later flight.

    1. Johnny Jet|

      It’s a good question and I should’ve made it clear. I don’t normally fly Air Canada because I don’t have elite status so I can’t get free upgrades to first class or even economy with extra legroom. When I’m with my family and they check bags it costs much more since I get free checked bags with American. But the biggest reasons are we don’t know if this virus will be over by then and sadly I need the money. Revenue to the site has dropped off a cliff.

  3. William Clear|

    What is wrong with using the flight credit on a future flight if you are going to Canada so often?

    1. Johnny Jet|

      It’s a good question and I should’ve made it clear. I don’t normally fly Air Canada because I don’t have elite status so I can’t get free upgrades to first class or even economy with extra legroom. When I’m with my family and they check bags it costs much more since I get free checked bags with American. But the biggest reasons are we don’t know if this virus will be over by then and sadly I need the money. Revenue to the site has dropped off a cliff.

  4. Gary McKee|

    Johnny . . . As a Canadian living in Toronto who has travelled to 40 countries using Air Canada many times, I am disgusted with their attitude. They don’t owe me a cent now but I hope the US Government throws the book at them.

  5. Ray|

    It’s irrelevant that you only fly AC a few times a year ( “why don’t you accept a voucher ?” etc. ) ,they are breaking the rules, plain and simple. Good luck with your DOT complaint Johnny.

  6. Ray|

    ps Airlines such as Air Canada. I have a similar issue with Air Asia, should be held accountable.

  7. Dianne Autenzio|

    Lucky you did not use a Barclay card
    My family booked carnival cruise and
    We paid on our Barclays card
    Carnival told me 3 weeks ago that the
    Credit was issued and had to go back to
    Original payment which was carnival Barclays card
    The lady at carnivale citied calling them and was on hold with me W
    Waiting for them 45 Minutes and could not edit any longer
    Barclays is a nightmare edits are 2 hours thrm u get disconnected
    Language barrier issues and a complete run around
    I had faxed them April 15 because I had problems trying to get online I received a letter to csll them to discuss this matter
    2hr 15 minutes waiting to be told no credits
    Show and check my next statements which would be June since it is not in May one
    Once I see on my statement then I can csll
    And request my money
    We are retired living in fixed income we need our money back
    I asked for supervisor none available
    Asked for main number of Barclays after 10 minutes she could not find it
    Honestly I have never dealt with such a terrible credit card company
    Chase maybe 10 to 15 minute wait
    So if it appears on June statement
    I have to call and hope they will Send my money which could be several more weeks
    My son and his family have same they silent over 4000,00
    This was supposed to be a family trip
    It’s now a rip off from Barclays
    Let’s hope jet blue stops using them
    As I use to use my jet blue card not now
    Not putting up w Barclays

  8. Ted|

    Hi Johnny: Air Canada; Westjet and Air Transat are all playing the same game. Our Marc Garneau. Minister of Transport is NOT interested in protecting airline consumers at all. You might therefore think of getting on board with this class action lawsuit being brought against the major players. It might take a decade but you may have the satisfaction of getting your money back! Cheers!!

  9. Liz|

    Another issue that needs to be considered is what happens if the US/Canada border remains closed & also the provinces are on lock down. When you enter Canada you have to quarantine for 14 days. My daughter (Canadian born) & her 2 kids (US born) are booked to visit us in July. If they don’t reopen the borders then there is no reason for them to visit as I understand Canada takes these quarantines very seriously. Unless we get lucky & they cancel their flights we doubt AC would even give us vouchers. I had to cancel flights on Delta & they bent over backwards to accommodate rebooking. At first they wanted to just re-book flights for the next day but I told the CS rep that I would rather cancel my current flights & get a refund & then rebook at the cheaper price. She completely agreed with me & I’m now waiting for my credit to show up. I went online today & they are pending. I called the 800 # that is on their website & was advised that they are working on March refunds. I cancelled the end of April but will continue to go on the website & check the status of my refund. I am not looking forward to dealing with AC but maybe by July they will have changed their minds about issuing full refunds.

  10. Anne|

    I was wondering–Do foreign airlines have to follow US DOT orders?

    1. Johnny Jet|

      They do if they fly to/from/within the U.S.

  11. Cris|

    I have the same issue with Qatar Air which i booked thru Otbitz, i called Orbitz and was informed that they are only giving me travel voucher per the airline policy, with validity expiring on Jan 4, 2021 a year after i bought my tickets. But my flight was suppose to be on April 8 to Johannesburg and back to LA on April 17, 2020. Is filing a complaint with DOT worth it?

    1. Johnny Jet|

      It is worth it but call your credit card company

  12. Anonymous|

    We are dealing with the same situation and filed a DOT complaint at the end of April. We’re still waiting to hear back…

  13. Dane|

    Hi Jim- I am so happy to find this article via a Google search! I have almost the same situation for a flight that was cancelled from LAX to Montreal via Air Canada. A few quick questions:
    – Aren’t you running the risk of losing both your chargeback credit from your credit card AND the Air Canada travel credit if your chargeback claim is later denied by Chase?
    – I’ve heard the DoT has replies in about a week. Have you heard back from them yet?

    Thank you!!! :)

  14. jeff|

    Called AC and got the same runaround….when questioned the DOT ruling, was told to go on their website and go to customer relations for the refund….let’s see if that will work.

  15. Ray|

    Hi Johnny,

    Now that you’ve accepted a voucher from AC, will you still continue you case with the DOT ? I hope so, these airlines should not treat clients with such contempt.

    1. Johnny Jet|

      Yes! I’m hoping that my credit card gives me a chargeback

  16. Daniel|

    Did you ever hear back from Chase? If the chargeback is approved, will you have to forfeit the AC travel voucher?

    1. Johnny Jet|

      I haven’t yet but if they do chargeback then the AC voucher would be no good

  17. Daniel|

    Looks like the DOT complaint will eventually do the trick for the cash refund. It will take a while but fingers crossed! https://www.facebook.com/groups/AirPassengerRights/?post_id=1309092142630008

  18. Celeste B|

    I booked (and paid with CSP) 5 RT flights for people coming to PEI from US for golf trip this summer (that has now obviously been canceled as well as the flights). Got the same runaround talking to AC (she even told me she received a memo about the DOT regulation but they were not going to follow it as they are a Canadian company and following Canadian law). Filed DOT complaint and a dispute on the charge card. Received an email back from DOT saying basically that they have forwarded the info to AC and they will respond (well, that’s helpful. I know what their response will be.) Response was the same. I called Chase because it had been two weeks since sending the information for dispute. They said they should be issuing me the temporary credit and have contacted AC for their response to the dispute. I am not hopeful that Chase will resolve this and give me a permanent credit. They are not American Express (which I wish I would have paid for the tickets with, but the travel benefits are better with CSP).

  19. Celeste B|

    If you see my comment below, I filed a DOT complaint and all they did was forward it to AC for response. And they, of course, continued to agree to give me a refund.

  20. Cam|

    Air Canada is also refusing to refund my money despite them having canceled all my flights, changing them to something less convenient, then canceling, again changing them to even less convenient ones, and them finally not able to fly me to Canada because I’m a US citizen… They’re in violation of the USDOT mandate!!

  21. Bev Kelly|

    We booked AC flights Sydney to Calgary & return last year to fly June2020. They are non refundable tickets. AC canceled flights due to Covid19. Booked thru travel agent Flight Centre. I appealed direct to Air Canada as we were given credit no refund. We are seniors & unable to now get insurance as husband is Celiac ‘ unable to travel with threat of Corona. They refused my request of refund.

    1. Johnny Jet|

      Sadly, Air Canada and other Canadian airlines have been the worst at refunds. Try calling your credit card company for a chargeback

  22. ting|

    Hi Johnny. I have the same problem with you. I booked AC Flight two weeks ago. My flight is from Chicago to Toronto to Beijing to Guangzhou China.but they send the flight cancellation email to me yesterday.they rejected my refund.i filled a DOT Complaint form after the ridiculous deal with RP. I hope we can get our money back. even through my way might longer than yous .because i don’t speak good English .i don’t know why this airline still can alive.its a big mistake to book the ticket in air Canada.by the way i paid my tickets in debit card .can i still call my bank?thank you.

  23. BK|

    I am in the same boat with two AC international tickets. I also contacted US DOT and the DOT lady wrote to AC about my case. AC replied saying they would not refund, only giving vouchers or miles. Credit card company is no help. What else can be done?

  24. Vicki T|

    We only fly for vacation. Air Canada cancelled our RT flights to Copenhagen on 4/19. Requests to AC, DOT, Capital One all resulted in nothing but a useless Voucher. Almost a year now and Americans can’t travel to Canadaand Cruises still not cruising. 3K stolen by Air Canada and I keep getting doors slammed in my face.

  25. Lili Luo|

    I’m in the same boat. I purchased Air Canada ticket via third party agency. I had to cancel my flight because AC couldn’t resechedule me. They would not refund me! I disputed it with Chase and they gave me a Temporary Credit after 2 days (which is my total airfare) while they wait to hear back from AC. I’m now curious if Chase will take the Temporary Credit back once they hear back from AC and AC tells them a it’s a “no refund” ticket. Such a hassle! Now I’m worried to even touch the $$$ they put in my card worrying they will take it again.

  26. KFG|

    Filing a complaint with the DOT worked for me. Thanks for much for sharing this idea.

  27. Lillian L|

    Air Canada gave me a voucher that expires in August. I want to extend it (I don’t even want my money back) They are refusing!

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