A trip that was supposed to be a stress-free holiday after a cancer diagnosis turned into a nightmare for Christina Palmer and her husband when they faced being stranded in Las Vegas.
The London, Ont., woman, 39, thought she had found a great deal for the flights to Las Vegas through discount airline Swoop. The round-trip airfare this fall was just over $300.
“The reason we went on this trip is because I found out I had cancer in April, so my doctor mentioned that in between the cancer treatments and surgery that I should take a trip and relieve some stress,” Palmer said.
Diagnosed with colon cancer, Palmer has already undergone chemotherapy, but surgery and another round of chemotherapy are ahead.
“This was kind of our one opportunity to get out for the next year or so,” she said.
The trip to Las Vegas was fine and they had a great time, but things fell apart on Oct. 31 when they were scheduled to fly home to London.
“I came back upstairs with coffee for my husband, and he informed me our flight was cancelled,” Palmer said, adding she thinks the reason why it was cancelled was because of poor weather.
The email the couple received from the discount airline gave them two options: wait a week for the next available flight or get their money back and find their own way home.
Scrambling to get home
Palmer said they attempted to reach someone at the airline for help with no success — the Swoop booth at the airport in Las Vegas was empty.
Waiting one week was not an option for Palmer and her husband because of work, she said, adding that they also had to pick up their dog from a kennel.
“We ran around the Vegas airport trying to get flights or any way home because we needed to get back to at least Toronto that day,” she said.
“We ended up finding a flight with WestJet, which is their sister company, and while I was talking to her (the person booking the ticket), I was saying we were cancelled and she kind of said this happens quite often.”
In the end, Palmer paid $1,500 for both tickets to Toronto. They had to rent a car in Toronto to drive back to London. Palmer says Swoop has refunded them for the original discounted flight home to London, but nothing else.
An apology from the airline
“Safety is our No. 1 priority and will always be at the forefront of our decision-making,” a Swoop representative said in a statement to Global News Radio 980 CFPL when asked about the Palmers’ experience.
“We apologize for the inconvenience to our impacted travellers. Per our tariff and flight interruption policies for uncontrollable cancellations, impacted travellers were rebooked on the next available Swoop flight or could cancel for a full refund.”
Palmer thinks a week is too long to wait for another flight.
“I was just really stunned they would leave an entire plane full of people,” she said.
“Basically, they are following the Canadian rules, but you know, if it’s weather-related, they only have to find you the next available flight back so that, for them, would be the week later. For anyone wanting to book, it’s a chance you will take if there is weather. I am not sure how they will handle the entire winter season.”
In July, the first phase of Canada’s air passenger bill of rights came into effect to compensate passengers who are bumped from a flight due to overbooking.
The remainder of the rules, which cover how much an airline must pay a traveller if their flight is delayed and specifies the level of service for which they’re eligible, comes into effect on Dec. 15.
Under the forthcoming regulations, passengers who are held up between three and six hours can receive $400, while those held for six to nine hours can get $700. Travellers delayed more than nine hours could get $1,000.
Palmer said they were refunded for their Swoop flight, but the money only covered 20 per cent of what they had to pay for the new flight.
This is not the only issue that’s come up this year involving Swoop.
In August, travellers who were expecting to fly from Kelowna, B.C., to Winnipeg had an unpleasant surprise when they were told their Swoop flight was cancelled — and wouldn’t be rebooked for 11 days.
In response to that cancellation, Swoop said it would reimburse passengers if they purchased a ticket through another airline and give passengers delayed over three hours meal, hotel and transportation vouchers.
Earlier in July, hundreds of people were left stranded across the country. Swoop cancelled flights to and from Halifax to London and Hamilton and also experienced issues with flights in Western Canada.
In response, Swoop said travellers would be rebooked on the next available flight and given accommodation, food and transportation as needed.
Palmer says she has reached out to the company on multiple occasions to cover the additional costs they incurred but has not received a response back.