A Rockland man who booked tickets on Air Canada in January for flights this spring is demanding a refund for cancellations caused by COVID-19.
Emilio L. Vozzolo of Pearl River filed a class action lawsuit May 5 in U.S. District Court in White Plains, accusing the air carrier of illegally reversing its cancellation policy.
The airline obtained money from Vozzolo and other travelers, the complaint states, “by misleadingly representing that its airline tickets were no longer refundable if the trip was canceled by Air Canada.”
Vozzolo bought five round-trip tickets for $1,943 on Dec. 30. He and his family were scheduled to depart from Newark Liberty International Airport on April 29, to attend a wedding in Vancouver, British Columbia, and to return on May 5.
When he bought the tickets, the lawsuit states, Air Canada’s policy on canceled flights, including for “safety reasons,” was to refund the unused portion of the ticket or give a credit for future travel.
Vozzolo claims he called Air Canada on March 26 to inquire about the impact of COVID-19 on travel. He was told, according to the complaint, that he would not get a refund for a canceled flight and the only option would be a two-year voucher.
The Newark flight was canceled April 20, according to the complaint, nine days before the family was scheduled to depart for Vancouver.
Only after Vozzolo had booked the flight, “and after the COVID-19 pandemic became manifest,” the complaint states, Air Canada “updated its website confirming that only a credit will be offered for canceled flights.”
“Cancellations resulting from the COVID-19 crisis are considered outside our control,” the airline purportedly stated on its website, and were not eligible for refunds.
The action not only violated Air Canada’s pre-COVID-19 policy, according to the complaint, it violated U.S. Department of Transportation regulations for domestic and foreign carriers.
“Although the COVID-19 public health emergency has had an unprecedented impact on air travel,” an April 3 DOT enforcement notice states, “the airlines’ obligation to refund passengers for canceled or significantly delayed flights remains unchanged.”
The issue is not whether the disruption was within the airline’s control, the directive states, “but rather on the fact that the cancellation is through no fault of the passenger.”
Vozzolo is “not numb” to the economic hardships of the pandemic, the complaint states.
But the complaint notes that the Canadian government has pledged $56.9 billion (U.S. dollars) in aid to Canadian airlines. Air Canada was the top performer on the Toronto Stock Exchange for the past decade, with a return of 3,575%, as of late February. And at the end of 2019, it held $5.9 billion in cash, cash equivalents and short-term investments.
Vozzolo describes the vouchers as interest-free loans, and in his case, he claims, he no longer has any desire or purpose to travel to Vancouver or anywhere served by Air Canada.
“A significant percentage of customers are unlikely to redeem their vouchers,” the complaint states, and the airline “will likely reap close to a 100% profit margin on … unredeemed, pre-paid tickets.”
Vozzolo accuses Air Canada of deceptive acts, false advertising, conversion of payments and unjust enrichment.
He is asking the court to certify as a class all U.S. customers who were not given a refund for canceled Air Canada flights beginning March 1, and to direct Air Canada to return the payments.
Air Canada issued a statement that it cannot comment on court matters. “Instead, we will respond as necessary through the appropriate channels in due course.”
Vozzolo is represented by Manhattan attorney Joseph N. Kravec Jr., and New Jersey attorney Antonio Vozzolo.