A Kelowna, B.C., couple and an air passenger rights advocate are taking aim at WestJet for a cancelled flight from Hawai’i on Sunday, with limited rebooking and reimbursement options offered by the major Canadian airline.
Robert McDonald told Global News he and his wife’s return flight was supposed to leave Maui around 4 p.m. on Sunday, but it was cancelled that afternoon due to “unscheduled maintenance.”
The couple waited hours at the airport for a rebooking email that didn’t come on time. Only after waiting for hours and getting on the phone with a WestJet representative were they offered another flight by email, but not on the same day.
“It was extremely frustrating and maddening,” McDonald said Monday. “You don’t know where you’re going to stay tonight, you don’t know what you’re going to eat, you don’t know when you’re going to fly.
“You got to imagine, February in Maui, it’s not an easy thing to find a room at the last minute.”
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McDonald said he and his wife wound up at the Days Inn at a cost of US$495 per night. While at the airport, he added, he had been offered a US$15 meal voucher, but no hotel voucher.
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Global News requested an interview with WestJet, but was sent an emailed statement instead.
By email, WestJet confirmed the flight cancellation. It said McDonald was rebooked on the “first available flight option,” leaving Tuesday, and that its guest support team would reach out to see if he required additional support.
“We sincerely apologize for the inconvenience and understand how frustrating it is when travel doesn’t go as planned,” wrote Julia Brunet of WestJet’s media relations team.
“In lieu of the voucher, we invite Mr. McDonald to submit a request for reimbursement for his hotel accommodations, for up to $200 CAD per night or reservation, as outlined on our website. Further we do suggest that Mr. McDonald review his travel insurance policy as additional support and coverage may be offered through a third-party or credit card used at the time of booking.”
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According to Canada’s Air Passenger Protection Regulations, under these circumstances, an airline must rebook passengers for the must available flight within its own network, or within nine hours of the departure time indicated on the original ticket. Failing that, it must buy the passenger a ticket on any carrier that departs within 48 hours.
McDonald said those options weren’t offered.
Gabor Lukacs, founder of Air Passenger Rights, alleged WestJet is “breaking the law” by not rebooking passengers on the soonest available flight, even if it’s a competitor’s flight.
“There was an Air Canada flight a few hours after the cancelled flight of WestJet. So from my perspective, the first question is, why passengers were not rebooked on that Air Canada flight?” Lukacs asked. “Where is the enforcement?”
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McDonald, meanwhile, said “it’s kind of sad that you have to go to the major media in the country to get reaction from the airline.” He estimates that for now, he’s out $2,000.
“I just hope WestJet will look at this and say, “We’ve got to do better,’” he said, while recognizing there are “worse places” to be stuck than Maui.
Lukacs said the incident “exposes a systemic problem,” rather than an isolated incident.
— with files from Elizabeth McSheffrey
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