Did WestJet cancel your flight? Here’s what experts say you should do

The WestJet mechanics strike may be over, but for passengers seeking compensation for flights cancelled before and during the strike, the battle is just beginning.

The carrier cancelled more than 800 flights between June 27 and July 2, affecting tens of thousands of passengers. Some cancellations were announced in the days leading up to the Aircraft Mechanics Fraternal Association’s (AMFA) strike, but most came after it took effect.

Marty Firestone, president of travel insurance agency Travel Secure Inc., believes the total cost to customers for the cancelled flights and related expenses could be in the “millions and millions of dollars.”

“I really think people are going to be out of a lot of money, not to mention all the ancillary costs (if) they didn’t get back to work on time or people didn’t get to cruise ships on time,” Firestone told CTV News Channel on Monday. “It’s just going to balloon.”

Here are the kinds of compensation and support experts say passengers affected by the cancellations may be entitled to, and how to go about advocating for it.

Flights cancelled outside the strike

WestJet pre-emptively cancelled 25 flights on June 27, “in preparation for threat of strike by Aircraft Maintenance Engineers and other Tech Ops employees.” That round of cancellations affected 3,000 passengers.

According to Canada’s Air Passenger Protection Regulations (APPR) airlines have different minimum obligations to passengers depending on whether a delay or cancellation was within the carrier’s control, within the carrier’s control but required for safety, or outside the carrier’s control.

Gabor Lukacs, president and founder of the consumer advocacy organization Air Passenger Rights, believes cancellations made prior to the strike, on June 27, should be considered within WestJet’s control.

“It is the airline making a business or strategic decision as a bargaining technique to cancel flights in advance,” he said in an interview with CTV News Channel on Monday, “and the airline is required to rebook the passengers on its own network or on partners within nine hours of the original departure time. Failing that, it is required to buy the passenger a ticket on a competitor airline.”

He added that when a cancellation is considered within the airline’s control, the company is required to provide meals, accommodation and up to $1,000 in cash compensation per passenger for the inconvenience, depending on how long the passenger is delayed as a result of the cancellation.

Passengers in these cases are also entitled to a refund if they choose not to continue travelling, in which case, the airline has to refund their original airfare within 30 days, plus pay $400 as compensation for the inconvenience.

However, Lukacs warned that once a passenger has agreed to a refund, the airline is no longer responsible for their expenses if they choose to continue travelling.

“So I would be very cautious with accepting or even asking for a refund,” he said.

Firestone said he has a pair of clients with a WestJet flight cancelled over the long weekend who are currently facing this problem. He said the couple spent $8,800 to book themselves a last-minute flight with another carrier.

“If he checks off that he just will take the refund, how is he going to get back the $8,800 of the new airfare? How is he going to get back to $600 a night for hotels and numerous other food and other charges?” he said.

“That’s the scary part right now. Do you accept the refund? Is that absolving WestJet of any further costs or not?”

Flights cancelled during the strike

Members of AMFA officially went on strike last Friday, leading WestJet to cancel additional flights. As of noon on Sunday, the carrier had cancelled more than 800 flights, affecting tens of thousands of passengers. Though the strike ended that day, the blow to travellers had already been dealt.

“In that situation, if it’s outside the carrier’s control, their only obligation is to rebook the passenger on its own network or its partners’ flights, to depart within 48 hours from the original departure time,” Lukacs said. If the airline can’t make this happen, Lukacs said it’s obligated by law to buy the passenger a ticket for the next available flight with a competitor.

As with cancellations for reasons within the airline’s control, passengers can opt for a refund if they choose not to continue travelling.

What if I can’t get through to WestJet?

WestJet is legally required to provide these options to passengers whose flights have been cancelled, but what if you’re somehow left in the lurch anyway?

“First, you document if WestJet is being delinquent of its legal obligations. That is, not picking up the phone, not doing the rebooking,” Lukacs said.

“At that point, you go out and buy yourself a ticket, keep the receipt, keep all your receipts for good measure. Then, after you’re back in Canada you send WestJet an email.”

Lukacs said the email should include flight numbers, dates and times for the cancelled flights, in what way the airline did not meet its obligations — for example, failing to rebook your flight within 48 hours — what you spent in order to resolve the problem, copies of all relevant receipts and a request to provide reimbursement for any eligible expenses within 30 days.

“On the 31st day, if there’s still no payment or they refuse to pay, just serve them with a small claims court paper the same way you would do with a small car accident,” Lukacs said.

“It may take a couple of months or possibly a year, but small claims court judges are fair and they are going to look at the law and they’re going to rule according to the law for the passengers.” 

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