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Chaos continues at Western Canadian airports. What can stranded passengers do?

Click to play video: 'Frustrated with flight delays and cancellations? What you may be entitled to'
Frustrated with flight delays and cancellations? What you may be entitled to
WATCH: A growing number of air travellers are becoming increasingly frustrated with the mounting number of flight delays and cancellations. As Tomasia DaSilva reports, you may be entitled to some compensation – Dec 20, 2022

Flight delays and cancellations — and frustration — continued Tuesday for prospective travellers at both Edmonton and Calgary airports.

WestJet, Air Canada and officials for both airports said severe weather, including winter storms and extreme cold, across Western Canada was affecting operations at several airports.

Ripple effects from the disruptions in Vancouver and extreme cold in Alberta have already created challenges for holiday season travellers in airports across the country.

WestJet is offering full refunds to passengers choosing to proactively cancel their trips while Air Canada says travellers should rebook online if their flight has been scrubbed.

Aiden Wadden-Lynk has been stuck at the Edmonton airport for 16 hours. He’s trying to get home to Nova Scotia for Christmas. He hasn’t been home in five years.

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“My flight was supposed to leave at 11 o’clock (Monday night). And at 11 o’clock, they told us that there were no pilots. And then at 1:30 (a.m.) when they finally cancelled our flight, they told us it was the weather,” he said.

“The ground crew told us that Vancouver wasn’t equipped for snow, that by the time planes were being de-iced, they were running out of fuel and having to go back, so pilots were climbing out on the tarmac.”

Wadden-Lynk said he’s tired, but still hopes to make it home. He’s been rebooked on a flight through Calgary.

“I haven’t slept in 36 hours… I have to spend 23 hours in the Calgary airport just to get home… But I have two little sisters at home who keep telling me to believe in Christmas miracles. So for them, I’m hopeful because it’s been too long.”

Click to play video: 'B.C. snow storm cancels flights at Vancouver’s airport, passengers stuck on tarmac for hours'
B.C. snow storm cancels flights at Vancouver’s airport, passengers stuck on tarmac for hours

Edmonton International Airport and Calgary International Airport were dealing with a large number of delays and cancellations again Tuesday, according to their flight tracker websites.

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A spokesperson for Calgary’s airport said it was busier than usual Tuesday.

“Flights to and from B.C.’s west coast are experiencing weather-related delays and cancellations,” Stephanie Harris said.

“We expect weather conditions on the west coast to clear over the next few hours and operations to resume and recover. YYC is also seeing departures delays due to extreme cold in Calgary. We recommend guests check with their airline prior to coming to YYC.”

Steve Maybee, spokesperson for the Edmonton airport, said flights are still being affected by the B.C. delays, cancellations and temporary suspension.

“When an aircraft is not moving throughout the system, that aircraft is now out of the mix for a good portion of the day,” he said, adding the ripple-down effects are more noticeable during the busy holiday season.

“Once you start feeling those impacts, it takes time to catch up,” Maybee said. “The challenge this time of year (is) it takes that time. You don’t have as many aircraft in the system. So many people are booked.

“In a normal time of year, you might be able to rebook on another aircraft the next day. But that aircraft is already full of passengers, so the rebooking becomes a challenge.

“The airlines, a lot of times, put extra flights on, try to accommodate… Behind the scenes, they’re working on that. They’re trying to get as many people moving as they can, but it’s going to take some time.”

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In an emailed statement Tuesday, Air Canada said that “with winter weather across many parts of the country including exceptional snow volumes affecting YVR, airline operations and schedules are affected.

“Passengers should always check their flight status before leaving for the airport. Rebook online if your flight is cancelled. We thank passengers for their patience as we work with airports and aviation stakeholders to get flights moving safety.”

In a statement to Global News Tuesday, WestJet apologized to customers affected by delays and cancellations across the network “as a result of severe winter weather impacting our operations out of Western Canada.”

Click to play video: 'Edmonton International Airport chaos being blamed on ripple effect from B.C. winter storm'
Edmonton International Airport chaos being blamed on ripple effect from B.C. winter storm

Extreme cold in Alberta and snow in B.C. “continue to prove challenging as we work to stabilize our operations and ensure the safety of our crews,” Madison Kruger said. “In response to the ongoing weather-related challenges, some airports’ operations were suspended temporarily, and many have initiated departure management programs due to runway conditions and de-icing capacity.”

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Travellers are asked to hold off calling WestJet until their flight is 72 hours away.

WestJet said affected guests are being offered “re-accommodation options” through email “as soon as they are available.”

WestJet said there were a total of 146 cancellations Monday and 90 cancellations as of noon MST Tuesday.

Most of Alberta was under an extreme cold warning Tuesday and most of British Columbia is covered by weather warnings as snow, extreme cold and arctic winds grip the province.

Vancouver International Airport temporarily suspended all incoming and outgoing flights early Tuesday. Departing aircraft were held at their gates, stranding passengers aboard some arriving flights for hours, as those planes had no place to go.

A statement from YVR said it was dealing with the “mass cancellations” and working to “to deplane passengers safely and deliver luggage to them in the terminal,” airport spokeswoman Megan Sutton said in an emailed statement.

Click to play video: 'Frustration and chaos at YVR after flights temporarily suspended'
Frustration and chaos at YVR after flights temporarily suspended

Air Passenger Rights

Gábor Lukács, president of Air Passenger Rights, said he questions whether all these delays and cancellations are truly weather-related.

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“Airlines have an obligation to have contingency plans and plan ahead,” he said.

“We do know that the weather is terrible in Vancouver and we have a lot of sympathy for that. So if someone is flying to and from Vancouver, it’s probably weather-related.

“But for the rest of the country, airlines have to continue operating and they cannot just blame everything on what is happening in British Columbia, that’s just not reasonable.”

Lukacs says the Air Passenger Protection Regulations (APPR) are unnecessarily complex and wants them revamped to more closely resemble the European Union’s passenger protection regime to better protect passengers.

Air Passenger Rights, a Canadian consumer advocacy group for air travellers, has filed a report with the House of Commons Transport Committee, recommending:

  • Establishing simple criteria for automatic standardized compensation of passengers for flight delay, flight cancellation, and denial of boarding
  • Imposing a clear burden of proof on airlines to present evidence about the circumstances of a travel disruption
  • Establishing common sense definitions for “flight cancellation” and “denial of boarding”
  • Codifying the right to a refund in the original form of payment of the itinerary if the passenger chooses not to travel due to a flight’s cancellation, delay, or denial of boarding by the airline
  • Imposing enforcement measures that include mandatory and minimum penalties, and higher maximum penalties

“The greatest problem is that airlines that break the law don’t face significant consequences that would affect their bottom line,” Lukacs said.

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“The cost of actually paying compensation in the moment is higher than the cost of refusing to pay compensation and in those rare occasions where they do get a fine, pay a couple hundred dollars in fines,” he explained.

Click to play video: 'New air passenger protection rules go into effect to protect Canadian air travellers'
New air passenger protection rules go into effect to protect Canadian air travellers

“At the same time, the rules are so complicated… that you need to spend hours and hours as a decision maker to figure out if the passenger is or is not owed compensation.”

New air passenger protection rules

In Canada, new Air Passenger Protection Regulations (APPR) came into effect in September.

Airlines are now required to issue a full refund for cancellations and delays if passengers are not placed on a new flight within 48 hours, including for reasons outside of the airline’s control.

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Previously, the APPR only required refunds for flight disruptions that were within the airline’s control, which excluded situations ranging from weather to war to unscheduled mechanical issues.

As well as a cash refund, the ticket price may also be reimbursed through credit or vouchers and is to be paid in full by the airline within 30 days.

The original Air Passenger Protection Regulations were established in 2019, before air travel demand collapsed due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

What to do if your flight is delayed/cancelled

Make note of:

  • What you have been told by the airline;
  • How much time has passed since the departure time on your ticket;
  • What time you arrived at your destination;
  • Reasons for the delay/cancellation.

Keep copies of your ticket, any notifications from the airline and receipts if you purchase goods or services (e.g. meals, hotel accommodation, taxis, etc.)

The new rules now require airlines to provide passengers with either a refund or rebooking, at the passenger’s choice, when there is a flight cancellation, or a lengthy delay, due to a situation outside the airline’s control that prevents it from ensuring that passengers complete their itinerary within a reasonable time. These reasons include weather conditions or natural disasters, airport operation issues and labour disputes.

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The new rules require airlines to provide a passenger with a confirmed reservation on the next available flight that is operated by them or a partner airline, leaving within 48 hours of the departure time indicated on the passenger’s original ticket. If the airline cannot provide a confirmed reservation within this 48-hour period, it is required to provide, at the passenger’s choice, a refund or rebooking. The airline must provide a refund within 30 days.

What if your baggage is lost, delayed or damaged?

Firstly, it’s important to document everything that was in your luggage should anything go wrong, as you may have to justify the cost of what was lost.

Airlines must compensate passengers up to $2,300 for the contents of a bag that is lost or damaged while in their control, and up to the same amount for any items that you need while your baggage is delayed.

The Canadian Transport Agency notes the airline might be absolved of these obligations if it took all reasonable measures to avoid such a delay.

Standard baggage fees as well as costs for oversized luggage, for example, must be refunded if your baggage is lost, delayed or damaged as well.

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Claims must be filed to the airline within seven days of receiving damaged luggage, and within 21 days after receiving baggage that was delayed or as soon as possible if your luggage was lost or delayed more than three weeks.

These timelines are important, the CTA notes, as the airline could deny your claim if you miss the window to apply.

Click to play video: 'Holiday travel advice for passengers at the Edmonton International Airport'
Holiday travel advice for passengers at the Edmonton International Airport

What if the airline won’t pay?

“I would suggest passengers to push airlines very hard on this,” Lukacs said. “Make an APPR claim for a lump sum compensation. If refused, demand details. When did the weather take place? What was the nature of the weather issues? How did it affect the particular flight?”

If you can’t get through to an airline to request your refund or compensation, there are a few other paths you can take to recoup the costs.

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Lukacs says that if an airline does not confirm your refund or payments within 30 days, proceed “quickly” to small claims court in order to expedite the process.

“This is the only viable solution for passengers in this situation, unfortunately,” he said.

“The Canadian Transportation Agency has a backlog of 30,000 passenger complaints and it keeps growing.

“It takes too long to deal with a single claim… For a $400 case, you may need 1,000 pages of documents. That’s not reasonable. That’s not proportionate,” Lukacs said.

Click to play video: 'Travel tips to avoid the holiday travel chaos'
Travel tips to avoid the holiday travel chaos

— With files from The Canadian Press

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