The head of Canada’s largest private sector union says Air Canada has agreed to refund customers for flights that were cancelled or postponed due to the COVID-19 pandemic as a precondition for any bailout deal.

Refunding passengers who lost money on cancelled flights when the coronavirus pandemic struck has been a major discussion point around the question of whether the Canadian government will offer a bailout to the airline.

The development was first reported by The Toronto Star and Unifor confirmed it to CP24 Wednesday evening.

Unifor President Jerry Dias told the newspaper that he has spoken with officials from Air Canada and the federal government and they said the company has agreed to the demand as one of the preconditions  for a bailout deal.

Neither the federal government nor Air Canada have publicly acknowledged the move so far.

Passenger rights advocates have been calling for airlines to refund jilted customers since last year.

The airline industry has been-hard hit by the pandemic, its revenues decimated by public health advice telling people to stay home in Canada and around the world in order to limit the spread of the virus.

Stringent new restrictions for those entering Canada from abroad have made the prospect of air travel even less attractive in recent weeks.

International air travellers are now required to quarantine in hotels for three days after landing while they await the results of COVID-19 tests. The measure came into place on Feb. 22.

It is not clear when a final deal between the government and the company might be announced.

Unifor represents airline workers at Air Canada as well as other airlines, such as Sunwing and Porter.

The union has been lobbying the federal government for a bailout that would help workers and has said that Canada has done little to support the industry compared to other countries.

On its website in late January, Unifor said 45 per cent of its members in the airline sector have either been laid-off, furloughed or had their jobs eliminated. That figure is even higher at Air Canada, where 60 per cent of UNIFOR members are out of work.

“Airlines have drastically cut back on their routes, and even shuttered some locations – leaving entire communities with no flights at all, and diminishing hope that they will ever return,” Dias said in the January post. “Without government action now to save the industry, those fears are well-founded.”

Unifor said Dias was not available to comment further Wednesday evening.