Winnipeg family opts to drive home from California after WestJet flight grounded

A Winnipeg family’s Disneyland vacation turned into a 3,000-kilometre trek across the continent after their flight was impacted by the WestJet mechanics strike.

Laura Forsythe told 680 CJOB’s The Start she was in Anaheim, Calif., preparing for a flight home Sunday, when it was suddenly cancelled — just 12 hours before takeoff.

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“We originally had a direct flight on Sunday morning at 10:45 to arrive (in Winnipeg) in the afternoon. It was supposed to take us three hours and 14 minutes to get home,” Forsythe said.

“At 9:34 p.m., they sent us an email — first telling us we had a credit to have hotels if we needed them. We had been following the strike, and we thought, ‘Oh, we’re not affected. They haven’t told us yet, it’s already 9:30 p.m., and we’re flying tomorrow morning. We’re going to be fine.’

“Then at 9:45, another email came that said, ‘Oh, sorry, there’s a change in your flight schedule, and at this time we’re unable to offer any further flight options.’”

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With a cancelled flight and no way to get home the night before they were supposed to leave, Forsythe and her family sat on the phone until well after midnight, trying in vain to reach a WestJet representative.

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While they were on hold, she said, they searched other airlines, but only found pricey business class tickets on Air Canada — and had even less luck with U.S. carriers.

“We had to crunch some numbers, and thought, it’s probably cheaper to rent a car and drive all the way home.”

The 30-hour trek cost $1,200 for the car rental, plus filling the tank five times, as well as hotel rooms — which Forsythe is hoping WestJet will compensate her for.

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Click to play video: 'WestJet strike fallout'

WestJet strike fallout

She’s thankful her family had the means to take the extended trip back, but feels for travellers who were left stranded without the ability to pay for a backup option.

“If we were in a situation where we needed that money to have to book another flight or to find alternate travel home, we would still be out of pocket, out of money, not able to arrange another plan.

“I’m just so grateful we are so privileged we were able to do this … because there are a lot of folks who wouldn’t have had this as an option.”

Forsythe said she’s a regular WestJet customer, flying with the airline six or seven times a year. She had a flight to Calgary booked in a few days, and has been battling with hold times in an attempt to cancel it.

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“I don’t want to fly to Calgary. We have used our extra days of holiday, so we’re just not going to go. But I can’t get through to WestJet to cancel it, and if I cancel online, they’re going to charge me $630 as a cancellation fee.

“So that’s why I’ve been waiting on the line now (for) seven-and-a-half hours to speak to someone.”

Former Air Canada executive Duncan Dee told The Start on Tuesday that the WestJet strike, which grounded over 150 flights, was an unprecedented situation for Canadian travellers.

“We have never really had a situation where an entire work group has gone out on strike after it had been ordered into binding arbitration,” he said.

“The airline doesn’t have the time or any plans to be able to accommodate this kind of a scenario.”

For Forsythe, at least, there was somewhat of a silver lining to the situation: the circuitous drive home allowed her family to see some of the United States’ best scenery, which they would have missed on a direct flight home.

“We had a wonderful journey. We got to see Mount Rushmore, we drove along the Colorado River, we saw various mountain ranges, it was beautiful. We didn’t want to ruin our trip. Our trip had been amazing so far, so it was just a pivot that we had to do with our family.”

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Click to play video: 'WestJet flight disruptions continue following strike'

WestJet flight disruptions continue following strike

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