Frustrated Winnipeg travellers grounded by WestJet’s Vancouver weather woes
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Whether they were heading to a honeymoon destination or a long-anticipated family vacation, disappointed travellers had a snowball’s chance in hell of getting on a WestJet flight Tuesday.
Heavy precipitation in Vancouver Monday snowballed into cancelled and delayed travel plans across the country Tuesday.
Winnipeggers booked on WestJet flights, which has so many of its planes heading eastbound from Vancouver through the day, were particularly hard hit; people sat for hours at Richardson International Airport Tuesday, waiting for planes that never arrived.
Newlyweds Dave Wilder and Karin Phillips tried for hours to get in touch with someone at the airline after their scheduled flight to Toronto Tuesday — the first leg of their honeymoon trip to Jamaica — was blown away by the wintry weather out west.
“WestJet said they wouldn’t do anything at the airport,” Wilder said. “And when we called them, they said they would get back to us in three to seven days.”
To add insult to injury, they hadn’t booked with WestJet.
“We booked the trip to Montego Bay with Sunwing,” he said, adding the trip cost $6,200 and they didn’t take out insurance. “Sunwing is pointing the finger at WestJet and WestJet is pointing the finger at Sunwing.
“Nobody is taking responsibility.”
Neither WestJet nor Sunwing representatives could be reached for comment.
“We sincerely apologize to those who have been impacted by cancellations/delays due to winter weather,” WestJet posted on Twitter.
“We understand your frustration, especially at this time of year. Our teams are working to re-accommodate you as quickly as possible, where possible.”
The airline said it has limited capacity to re-book people and instructed ticket-holders to wait until they receive an email or make alternate arrangements.
“If you have a flight booking between now and Dec. 26, and would like to proactively cancel your trip, full refunds to original form of payment are available,” the tweet went on to say.
Vincent Turgeon, a spokesman for the Canadian Transportation Agency, said people affected by the cancellations can also check with the federal organization about their rights and what an airline is supposed to do for them.
“The CTA may be able to help with complaints about the air portion of travel arrangements booked through a travel agency or as part of a tour package,” Turgeon said.
“Airlines must follow rules in the (federal) Air Passenger Protection Regulations that pertain to flight disruptions and cancellations, and those found in their tariff, which is the contract between the airline and the passenger. Passengers who claim that an airline did not follow one of these sets of rules can file a complaint with the CTA.”
And Gabor Lukacs, founder and co-ordinator of the group Air Passenger Rights, said just because there is bad weather in Vancouver doesn’t mean WestJet’s Winnipeg passengers should have simply been left with cancelled flights.
“It wasn’t weather, because it was OK in Winnipeg,” Lukacs said. “If WestJet’s flight is cancelled they are required by law to buy (passengers) tickets for Air Canada… you don’t have to pay for services through no fault of your own you didn’t receive.
“Weather in Vancouver doesn’t matter — this is an organizational matter for WestJet.”
Lukacs said anyone who paid out of pocket for an additional ticket should apply for compensation.
Jamie Pope said she was at Toronto Pearson International Airport Wednesday, a day later than she expected, on her way for a long-ago planned Christmas vacation with her family.
Pope said she, her husband Ian Pentland and their seven-year-old son Jackson, who has autism and is non-verbal, went to Winnipeg’s airport Tuesday after receiving a message from WestJet informing them their flight had been cancelled. They were not able to get through to anyone at the airline by phone.
“I’ve never seen an airport like that — I’ve only seen it on TV,” she said. “People were everywhere, they were sitting on the floor.
“When I tried to talk to a WestJet employee, telling them I’m travelling with a child with special needs, — – I get it — but I just can’t believe there’s no way to talk to someone.”
Amid the WestJet chaos, Pope said they noticed everything was quiet and completely different over at the Air Canada check-in area. She said they were able to book a Tuesday-night flight with Air Canada to Toronto, and then to Orlando Wednesday.
“A person said because the WestJet flight out of Winnipeg was cancelled I still have to get hold of WestJet Vacations to make sure they haven’t cancelled our hotel in Orlando and our return flight to Winnipeg,” she said, adding they were meeting her parents and other family in the Florida vacation mecca.
“I don’t know what will happen when we get to Orlando, whether we have a hotel or not…. We also have about $5,000 in (pre-purchased) Disney World and Universal theme-park tickets. I’m very disappointed in WestJet. I’ve always been such a WestJet fan, but now, when you can’t get hold of them and we paid $11,000 for the trip.
“You can’t run a business that way.”
Pope said the new flights and an overnight hotel stay in Toronto have cost her another $5,000 at this point. She said she didn’t take out insurance for the trip because of the cost.
“It was going to be $8,000 and even the agent laughed and said it’s almost the price of the trip.”
And while many Winnipeggers were trying to leave the frozen city, others were trying to get back.
Pratik Modha’s Monday-night WestJet flight from Vancouver to Winnipeg was delayed and, finally, cancelled when the snow hit there. Modha was still there Wednesday, paying for a hotel room.
“When I contacted WestJet they said you have to set up an appointment to talk to them,” Modha said, noting he is expecting a 5 a.m. Friday callback from an airline representative.
“Why don’t they hire more people?”
As for Wilder, he also dug into his own wallet to purchase other flights to Toronto and Montego Bay Wednesday and will be looking for compensation when he returns.
“Hopefully we make it to Jamaica,” he said.
“But right now I’m out a day (of our honeymoon) and $3,200.”
Kevin Rollason is one of the more versatile reporters at the Winnipeg Free Press. Whether it is covering city hall, the law courts, or general reporting, Rollason can be counted on to not only answer the 5 Ws — Who, What, When, Where and Why — but to do it in an interesting and accessible way for readers.