Disclaimer: Travelwithpoints is only describing the event that happened to the affected passengers, ideas and suggestions are not legal advice.
The global aviation industry is one of the biggest victims of the COVID19 pandemic. A number of airlines had to cut their capacity, layoff their employees and preserve their cash flow in whatever way they can to survive from this situation.
The major controversy between airlines and consumers is whether authorities should enforce the airline to provide a refund to the passenger due to flight cancellation. US DOT has ruled that the airlines must provide refunds instead of the vouchers, but the IATA expressed their disappointment and disagreed with DOT’s approach. I agree with DOT’s ruling because I believe people would need that cash more than ever due to this pandemic and airlines can always be rebuilt or consolidated after the storm.
Today I will describe to you an incident that happened on April 4th, at Toronto Pearson International airport, where a few dozen passengers were denied boarding at the airport because of the government enforcement regulations. Though, these passengers were not informed 72 hours prior to the departure date, according to Air Passenger Rights Regulation (APRR) issued by the Canadian Transportation Agency (CTA) since 2019.
Furthermore, China Eastern Airlines has either refused to book the passenger on the next available flight or asked for more money to book the passenger on the next available flight.
I will go through the special COVID19 version of APRR (A-2020-42) and see what rules have China Eastern (MU) violated.
According to the APRR, the airlines are required to keep passengers regularly informed if there is a flight disruption (flight and tarmac delays; flight cancellations; and denials of boarding).
They will have to tell passengers why their flight has been disrupted as soon as it is feasible. This information will have to be provided through:
- an audible announcement;
- a visible announcement, upon request; and
- the available communication method the passenger has selected (e.g., email, SMS).
Airlines will have to provide flight status updates every 30 minutes until a new departure time has been confirmed. The airline must offer any new status information to passengers as soon as it is feasible, which may be sooner than 30 minutes after the last update.
Most passengers did not know they were removed from their seats when they showed up at the airport. A few passengers even called the airline repeatedly to confirm that they can travel on April 4th. Furthermore, both the MU call centre and the ground staff cannot provide any information in regard to when can these stranded passengers can travel back home.
Especially in the given situation, people should not go to a public space if they do not need to. How can MU risk people’s lives like this? It is putting pressure on the Canadian health system unnecessarily. At the very least, MU should inform passengers 72 hours prior to the departure whether they can fly as per CTA’s regulation!
Given the extraordinary context of this pandemic, I will assume anything airline had to do, e.g. removing confirmed passenger off the flight, is outside of the airline’s control (I will try not to discuss any rumours and unproved claims at this moment).
 Under the APPR, air carriers have minimum obligations to passengers when flights are cancelled or delayed. Those obligations depend on whether the disruption was within the control of the air carrier, within the air carrier’s control but required for safety, or outside the carrier’s control:
Situations within the air carrier’s control: keep the passenger informed, provide standards of treatment (such as food and water), compensate the passenger for the inconvenience, and rebook or refund the passenger.
Situations within the air carrier’s control but required for safety: keep the passenger informed, provide standards of treatment, and rebook or refund the passenger.
Situations outside the air carrier’s control: keep the passenger informed and rebook the passenger so the passenger can complete their itinerary.
The passengers who were denied boarding still have not received clear communication from MU, about when their new flight is.
After discussions with a number of experts in Air Passenger Rights, I have composed a list of tips that one can follow:
- Whenever you have any communication with the airlines, RECORD YOUR CALL! (in English)
- If you are denied boarding, ask the airline to either book you to the next available flight, and if they refuse, please leave a comment below. I will contact you with further instructions.
- Keep all the records of your flight. Your flight confirmation emails, SMSs and web screen captures.
- The airline is obliged to book you on the next available flight if that is your preference over a refund. The airline cannot force you to accept a refund.
- Keep receipts for all expenses after being stuck at the airports, you may be eligible to get these expenses compensated.
- Keep calm and seek help.
- If you have a future flight ticket with MU, look into airline elite status match possibilities, maybe you can get an Elite or Elite Plus status, which may give you some edge over non-status passengers. You can check out Delta’s status match page here (who belongs to Skyteam as China Eastern).
There is no doubt that MU has not been complying with the Canadian APRR very well, even with the relaxed regulations.
While I dislike what MU has done to its customers in this difficult time, MU seems to have figured out a way to keep them away from the legal obligations. If the passengers decide to go down the legal route, it will be a time consuming and costly process.
It is a difficult time for both airlines and passengers. I will try my best to provide advice and information to those passengers who are in need of help. I wish you can get back to your family soon.
Meanwhile, stay safe and be well.