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B.C. man loses COVID test battle with Air Canada

Air Canada said a man's COVID-19 tests weren't appropriate for his final destination and refused to board him.
A B.C. man has lost his fight for flight costs in a COVID test battle with Air Canada.

B.C.’s Civil Resolution Tribunal has rejected a man’s claims that Air Canada owes him a refund after the carrier refused to transport him because it allegedly misunderstood his COVID-19 test.

Habib Hussain claimed the airline owed him $4,500 for the price of new tickets, the cost of a new COVID-19 test, miscellaneous expenses and “compensation.”

Air Canada, however, denies any liability. The company says Hussain lacked proper travel documents for his final destination and sustained no compensable loss.

Hussain purchased a round-trip ticket from Etihad Airways (Etihad) on June 12, 2021, according to tribunal member David Jiang's Feb. 6 decision

The itinerary originally had him departing on June 25, 2021, flying from Vancouver to Islamabad-Rawalpindi, via Toronto and Abu Dhabi, returning to Vancouver on Aug. 9, 2021. However, Etihad exchanged Hussain’s ticket so that he would depart from Vancouver on July 23, 2021 instead.

When he got to YVR that July day, Air Canada asked Hussain for his COVID-19 test results. He gave staff July 21, 2021 test results.

"Air Canada’s notes state that Mr. Hussain needed to provide an RTPCR test for transport, but Mr. Hussain provided a NAAT test instead," states the tribunal's decision. 

“Air Canada did not explicitly say so, but I infer it argues that Mr. Hussain’s COVID-19 test results were invalid for entry into either Pakistan or the United Arab Emirates,” Jiang said.

“Mr. Hussain provided a copy of the test results in evidence,” Jiang added. “Under specimen description, it said ‘COVID-19 Coronavirus RNA (PCR/NAAT).’ The test result was negative. It also said, ‘No COVID-19 virus (2019-nCoV) detected by NAT.”

Hussain called Air Canada to reschedule and was told he would have to pay for rebooking and also produce a NAAT test for transport. He then went to the airport’s clinic where he said he was advised his test was acceptable.

“I find this key submission unsupported by evidence, such a letter (sic) from clinic staff. Air Canada still refused to transport him,” Jiang said.

Hussain told the tribunal he tried to obtain a new test with the airport’s clinic but said he was advised it would take at least 48 hours for results.

 A receipt and itinerary show that Hussain subsequently booked different travel plans on July 26, 2021 with Etihad, with the first leg operated by WestJet.

Hussain said WestJet accepted his original July 21, 2021 test result.

“I find this is another key submission that is unsupported by evidence. For example, there are no letters or emails from WestJet to verify Mr. Hussain’s account,” Jiang said.

From August to November 2021, the parties exchanged emails. Hussain included images of his test results and a photo of the clinic’s sample test. Air Canada reiterated that it had to cancel his reservation until he had proper documents that would be accepted by the country to which he was travelling to.

Air Canada subsequently asked its airport procedures team to review his file.

“The team advised that Mr. Hussain’s test was unacceptable because it was a ‘NAT’ test, though it used the term NAAT elsewhere,” Jiang said.

The team said Hussain needed one of the following tests: COVID-19 PCR, COVID-19 Real Time RT-PCR, COVID-19 RT-PCR, SARS-CoV2 GeneXpert, SARS-CoV2 PCR, SARS-CoV2 Real Time RT-PCR, SARS-CoV2 RT-PCR, and SARS-CoV2 Xpert Xpress.

Jiang said Hussain had the burden of proof in the case.

“He did not provide any evidence about the travel documents required for his destination countries,” the tribunal ruled. “So, I find it unproven that Air Canada’s decision to refuse transport was incorrect or otherwise unreasonable.”

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