The Canadian Transportation Agency says it has received more than 8,000 complaints about airlines since mid-March, an unprecedented figure for the five-and-a-half-month period.
The total exceeds the number of complaints from all of 2018-19 and comes amid a prolonged customer backlash over a move by airlines to offer flight credit rather than refunds for most trips cancelled due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
“Given that we are in the process of reviewing those complaints, it is not possible to identify specific issues raised in these complaints or to provide any kind of breakdown at this time. However, we expect a portion of these will relate to vouchers and refunds,” the agency said in an email.
The surge in complaints lines up directly with a more than 90 per cent plunge in passenger volume at Canadian carriers, suggesting reimbursements or flight cancellations rather than in-flight experiences play a prominent role.
Canadian airlines have typically offered flight credit valid for two years after they cancel a trip, leaving many customers concerned they will not feel comfortable flying for health or financial reasons within that time.
Since February, passengers have filed a handful of proposed class-action lawsuits and three petitions garnering more than 109,000 signatures that call for customer reimbursement.
In contrast to Canadian authorities, the European Commission and the U.S. Department of Transportation have required airlines to refund passengers. The U.S. and European countries including France and Germany have also offered billions in financial relief to struggling carriers, while Ottawa has provided no industry-specific bailout to airlines.
The pandemic has devastated the airline industry, with billions of dollars in losses for Canadian carriers amid grounded flights and tight international borders.
Canadian airline revenues in 2020 will fall by $14.6 billion or 43 per cent from last year, according to estimates in May from the International Air Transport Association.
The complaints span mid-March — Prime Minister Justin Trudeau issued a travel advisory on March 13 warning Canadians against trips abroad — to Aug. 26.
The agency did not specify an exact number of complaints.