Stranded WestJet passengers threaten legal action against airline

Click to play video: 'Edmonton travelers seeking compensation after WestJet reaches tentative deal with pilots'
Edmonton travelers seeking compensation after WestJet reaches tentative deal with pilots
RELATED: Edmonton travelers seeking compensation after WestJet reaches tentative deal with pilots – May 19, 2023

The waves made in anticipation of a potential WestJet pilot strike have left many disgruntled passengers after the airline cancelled hundreds of flights on May 18.

Although WestJet reached a tentative agreement and avoided a strike, the preemptive cancellations left many travelers stranded across the globe. Some of those passengers are now considering legal action, citing poor communication from the airline and a “disgusting” lack of regard for their plight.

Story continues below advertisement

Wendy Coutts from Calgary was stuck in Dublin. On Twitter, she voiced her concerns over the lack of communication, a complaint that was echoed by several dissatisfied passengers on the airline’s Twitter feed.

Coutts said without a phone, she relied on WestJet’s online chat and never got a response. She booked a flight home to Calgary on May 23 and says she will be out of pocket thousands of dollars over and above what the refund from WestJet will be.

“WestJet still hasn’t offered to rebook us on another airline and they have never said, ‘Go ahead and rebook yourselves and we will cover any extra costs,'” said Coutts.

Global News reached out to WestJet by email and the company said: “We sincerely apologize to every guest whose travel plans were impacted as a result of labour negotiations and appreciate their patience over the May long weekend as we ramped up our operations as efficiently and safely as possible.”

Click to play video: 'Edmonton travelers seeking compensation after WestJet reaches tentative deal with pilots'
Edmonton travelers seeking compensation after WestJet reaches tentative deal with pilots

Gillian McGrath’s son was stranded at Heathrow Airport in London after flying in from Shannon Airport in Ireland.

Story continues below advertisement

“The situation is sorted now but not without a LOT of stress and difficulties with WestJet,” said McGrath.

McGrath said her son’s grueling itinerary included a seven-hour layover at Heathrow and a connection in Toronto that was delayed four hours.  McGrath said her son’s first-class ticket was downgraded to economy when the flight was cancelled. Upon his arrival in Vancouver, one of his bags was missing and he wasn’t given a voucher for a meal.

McGrath says they want the compensation they are entitled to under European Union flight aviation laws. As a goodwill gesture, they also want a complimentary flight when they are returning back to Ireland.

According to European air passenger rights, when a flight is cancelled, the airline must offer, on a one-off basis, a choice between:

  • the reimbursement of your ticket and, if you have a connecting flight, a return flight to the airport of departure at the earliest opportunity
  • re-routing to your final destination at the earliest opportunity or,
  • re-routing at a later date at your convenience under comparable transport conditions, subject to the availability of seats.

Canadian Transport Agency rules say if an airline informs the passengers 14 days or less before their original departure time, they will have to compensate the passengers for the inconvenience of the disruption. The amount of compensation depends on how late the passenger arrives at their destination, compared to the arrival time indicated on their original ticket.

Story continues below advertisement

Large airlines must pay:

  • $400 if the passenger arrives three or more hours late, but less than six hours;
  • $700 if the passenger arrives six or more hours late, but less than nine hours; and
  • $1,000 if the passenger arrives nine or more hours late.
Click to play video: 'Why one Winnipeg family may swear off flying with WestJet'
Why one Winnipeg family may swear off flying with WestJet

Chloe Burlo and Nicholas Burns are from Vancouver, and say their flight was cancelled after they checked in online 24 hours before their flight on May 19. The flight was scheduled to leave London Gatwick at 11 a.m., but at 2:05 a.m. she received an email stating: “Regrettably, we’ve had to cancel one or more flights on your itinerary. At this time, we are unable to offer an alternative WestJet flight.”

Email from West Jet to customers regarding cancelled flights.
Email from West Jet to customers regarding cancelled flights.

After waiting on hold for an hour with WestJet, Burlo and Burns said they went to the airport and found no one that could help with their inquiry.

Story continues below advertisement

“The only other contact that was received from WestJet was that we could go to the Gatwick Hotel Sofitel and there would be rooms there for us to stay,” said Burlo.

Burlo said WestJet provided them with accommodations and food while at the hotel, however trying to communicate with WestJet was very difficult.

“We eventually booked our own flight with Air Canada for May 21st, as we did not want to get stuck in London,” said Burlo.

Disgruntled West Jet passengers bombard the airline’s Twitter post regarding cancelled flights due to a potential Pilot strike.

Burlo said it was not until May 21st that she heard from WestJet, offering them a flight on May 22.

“It was already too late and leaving on the 22nd was not feasible as we both had to go back to work,” said Burlo.

Story continues below advertisement

Back in Vancouver, Burlo says she wants her tickets compensated as well as funds for the delay. She said made a claim to WestJet through their website, however upon reading the rights, she believes the cancellation due to the impending pilot strike means it was considered a situation outside the airline’s control.

“Due to lack of communication from the airline, and now this loophole law saying it is out of their control, we had to spend $2,700 getting home late, and it seems like no compensation, except a refund (which they still have not provided) will be had. This refund (if it does come) will also be in WestJet points and not in cash,” said Burlo.

In a statement, WestJet said, “All guests impacted, will be refunded or re-accommodated, as applicable, and WestJet will continue to adhere to our regulatory obligations. Additionally, for all travel between May 15-21, 2023 we provided additional flexibility for all tickets.”

Click to play video: 'WestJet and pilots union strike averted, but airline faces recovery challenges'
WestJet and pilots union strike averted, but airline faces recovery challenges

Stephan and Rubana Steiner say they had to pay for an extra night in a hotel in Las Vegas after their connecting flight to Toronto with a final destination in Frankfurt, Germany was cancelled on May 19 and rescheduled for May 20. They want WestJet to compensate them for the cost of boarding.

Story continues below advertisement

“We lost two days in Toronto where we wanted to visit family I haven’t seen for almost 40 years,” said Stephan Steiner.

The Steiners made it home to Frankfurt on May 23 and plan to file a complaint and request a refund.

Domestic travelers are struggling to pick up the pieces as well, and for some, the loss of time with family is far worse than losing money.

Graziella Mitri had a flight with Swoop booked on May 19 from Toronto.

“We were heading to Kelowna to meet my niece for the first time, and this has now been cut short,” said Mitri.

Graziella Mitri’s packed bags after her flight was cancelled May 19.

Mitri says Swoop did not offer them anything for their lost time, and she now has to travel alone with an 18-month-old as her husband only had the weekend off.

Story continues below advertisement

“The worst part about all of this was the lack of customer service – there was no way to get a hold of Swoop other than a chatbot,” said Mitri.

In an email statement, Swoop said:

“Swoop travelers impacted by flight disruptions were notified via email and were provided self-serve options to rebook onto another Swoop or WestJet flight, where available, or the option to process a full refund to original form of payment. Included in disruption notifications was a link to Swoop’s Live Chat platform, where impacted travelers could speak to an agent to seek additional support.”

Mitri says compensation for the trip being disrupted should be considered and her husband, who is self-employed, lost a full day’s pay and a trip. Mitri wants Swoop to provide them with money on top of his refund or even a voucher that doesn’t expire for a future trip.

The Canadian Transport Agency policy for claims for compensation says a passenger has one year from the date the flight delay or cancellation happened to make a compensation claim with the airline. The airline has 30 days to respond by either making the payment or saying why it believes compensation is not owed.

Calgarian Wendy Coutts returned home May 24 after a stressful journey from Dublin, and she plans to take legal action to recuperate her losses if necessary.

Story continues below advertisement
Click to play video: 'Flight cancellations ahead of WestJet strike begins cascade of travel chaos'
Flight cancellations ahead of WestJet strike begins cascade of travel chaos

Sponsored content