Beaullah Dziruni and her husband did not receive the best of welcomes to Canada.
The couple, who are U.K. citizens but relocating to Canada as permanent residents, were among the passengers who experienced a trip delay of nearly 60 hours after WestJet flight 004 from London’s Gatwick airport to Toronto was cancelled not once but twice due to mechanical issues over the weekend.
“Imagine a family migrating,” Dziruni said, describing the hassle of lugging seven bags from airport gates to ticket counters, cabs and hotel rooms through the two-day travel ordeal.
“It was just horrendous,” she added.
And yet, there may be a silver-lining for the couple and their fellow passengers: their flight departed from the EU, rather than Canada.
According to EU regulations, passengers are entitled to cash compensation of 600 euro per person when a flight is cancelled, according to Canadian air passenger rights advocate Gabor Lukacs. If passengers experience two cancellations, then that would work out to 1,200 euros each, or around $1,860 per passenger.
That would not have been the case if passengers had been on a flight originating anywhere in Canada, Lukacs added, where there is no standard compensation for delays or cancellations caused by maintenance problems.
“Passengers were lucky they were flying from the U.K. to Canada,” Lukacs said.
Dziruni said she was scheduled to leave Gatwick on Saturday morning when WestJet advised passengers there would be a three-hour delay. Later on, however, the airline announced the flight had been cancelled, with the departure time moved to Sunday afternoon.
But Dziruni said when passengers arrived at the airport the next day, they were left waiting for hours and eventually told their flight had been cancelled again.
The couple finally reached Toronto on Monday evening.
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In an emailed statement, WestJet “apologized” to the affected passengers.
“The service provided to our guests was clearly not up to the WestJet standards to which we aspire,” it said.
The airline added that it is committed working with each passenger to “provide the appropriate compensation as per EU guidelines.” However, the company did not specifically comment on how much that compensation would amount to.
“The safety of our guests and crews are of utmost importance and while we had no option but to cancel the flight due to a mechanical issue and the subsequent required maintenance, we understand the process for our guests was both tedious and long,” the airline also said, adding that it “made every effort to accommodate guests with hotels, meal vouchers and alternative flight options as expediently as possible.”
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‘Some people were sleeping on the floor’
Dziruni said that while WestJet provided hotel accommodations for both nights, they were saddled having to pay over $50 in cab fares for which they have yet to be reimbursed.
On Saturday, the couple had to wait in line for six hours just to obtain a hotel booking for the night, she said.
“Some people were sleeping on the floor,” Dziruni told Global News.
On Sunday, when passengers were told their flight had been cancelled a second time, WestJet did not provide details about a future departure time until Monday morning, according to Dziruni.
“We didn’t know if we would have to wake up at midnight to check our flights.”
She also said that when she called customer service to inquire about flying with British Airways or Air Canada, she was told that WestJet would not re-book passengers on other airlines.
That would contravene not only EU rules, but WestJet’s own international tariff, Lukacs said.
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No compensation in Canada for delays caused by mechanical issues
For all their troubles, passengers of WestJet flight 004 appear to be entitled to compensation that goes far beyond what current rules in Canada guarantee in a similar situation.
EU passenger rights apply to any flight departing from within the Union, even when they are operated by an non-EU airline. And maintenance issues aren’t among the “extraordinary circumstances” that would relieve airlines from the obligation of providing cash compensation, assistance and rerouting, according to Lukacs.
However, under Canadian rules, which would apply to domestic flights and flights originating in Canada, there is no automatic and standardized compensation for delays and cancellations caused by mechanical malfunctions.
Under international rules, passengers in Canada are entitled to up to $8,500 in compensation for individual damages incurred, such as lost wages and additional parking fees. But the onus is on passengers to prove that they suffered such damages, Lukacs said.
And with Bill C-49, the Transportation Modernization Act, which received Royal Assent in May, the Liberal government relieved airlines from paying compensation for disruptions due to mechanical issues.
For its part, WestJet said it is “committed to a full review of the situation once our guests are back in Canada in order to make any improvements for the future.”