'This is unacceptable': Calgary passengers stranded for several hours amid WestJet flight cancellations
Labour action from WestJet pilots was avoided just hours before the 3 a.m. strike deadline Friday, but disruptions to the airline’s network are leaving some Calgary passengers stranded for several hours or days at the airport.
WestJet Group and the Air Line Pilots Association (ALPA) which represents WestJet and Swoop pilots, have reached a tentative agreement.
The end of a looming strike threat is good news for those who weren’t impacted by the 39 WestJet flights cancelled in Calgary on Thursday, but no love is lost for those who had their vacation itineraries ruined.
“This is unacceptable, absolutely no airline should be allowed to leave their customers hanging like this,” said Andrea Hamilton.
Before leaving her hometown of San Francisco, she learned that her connecting WestJet flight from Calgary to Rome would be cancelled.
Hamilton said she was assured by a WestJet gate agent that there would be no disruptions and she would be placed on a different flight, but she received no support once she arrived in Calgary.
“There wasn’t even a representative at the international desk, no one was there to help us, we got stonewalled everywhere by supervisors.”
“In the meantime, we're calling WestJet customer service and we can't even get through. I called, I waited over two hours once and was hung up on, I called another time and waited three plus hours and I was hung up on.”
Hamilton was forced to spend the night in Calgary, covering her own costs for a hotel and food, plus the cost of a last-minute airline ticket to Rome via Air Canada that ran her $1,600.
She said no compensation is being offered to her.
“I’m happy the pilots reached agreement, but where does it leave us? They don’t care.”
“If you booked through Expedia or points on your credit card, WestJet keeps pushing us back to those third-party options, but they’re saying no, you need to go to them because they canceled your flight. So we're between a rock and a hard place.”
ENGLISH MAN STRANDED IN CALGARY FOR DAYS
Iain Scott was visiting the Calgary and Banff area following an Alaskan cruise with friends, but he was shocked to discover that his returning flight home to London, England was cancelled.
“We got to the airport and we’re told that it’s our responsibility to find our own way home, I spoke to an agent here and basically nobody wanted to help,” he said.
“Nobody is saying anything about compensation at all, we booked here at a $300 a night hotel and basically no communication, no emails, no phone calls. Nothing.”
Scott said he was floored even more when he found out that the next flight home to London wouldn’t be available until Tuesday.
“This is absolutely unbelievable; you know this is not acceptable.
“Maybe WestJet doesn’t have the best reputation over here, but if this had happened in England, the people who would have been arriving here last night would have rioted.”
Scott is now told he may be able to get on a WestJet flight as early as Saturday evening, but he’s still waiting to find out if that’s a possibility.
AVIATION EXPERT: 48 HOURS UNTIL WESTJET GETS BACK TO ‘STABLE STATE’
John Gradek, a lecturer at McGill's school of aviation management said it will likely take WestJet about 48 hours to get its network back up and running to a ‘stable state.’
He said the logistics of having to ground an entire airline’s fleet in preparation for a strike, paired with flight cancellations and rescheduling comes with a lot of extra delays.
“It's a massive chess game, you know, you've got 130 airplanes and to ground them you basically have to figure out where you can find a parking spot for these airplanes,” Gradek said.
“They did a good job of organizing those cancellations and rescheduling to park the airplanes where they're supposed to be in the event of a strike, but bringing them back is going to take a lot longer."
Gradek added that this process will cost WestJet millions of dollars in revenue, but notes that it’s a far greater option than if pilots were to strike.
The question now remains as to how these delays will impact the WestJet brand.
“This should be a lesson learned for WestJet and for the other airlines that go through these situations, it's nice for you to use all of these passengers as a way to bargain, but there's a price to pay for that,” Gradek said.
“So now you have to have a customer service practice with process and procedures that will save face in the industry, and I think that WestJet has been alerted on this one that it kind of fell apart, and they need to fix it.”
WESTJET OFFERING FLIGHT CHANGE OPTIONS
Before the agreement was reached, WestJet pre-emptively offered free flight changes and cancellations for certain dates as a possible strike loomed.
- ·A one-time fee waiver for flight changes or cancellations on eligible flights booked for May 15-21, as long as a traveller requests a change or cancellations more than two hours prior to departure.
- Free flight changes and cancellations for Swoop flights from May 19 to 21
- The fee waivers apply as long as the flight has not been cancelled. Where a flight has been changed, or cancelled, the airline says it will provide details on how to request a refund if a passenger no longer wishes to travel.
Information posted to WestJet’s website says for a changed or cancelled flight, a traveller can request a refund if the booking was made directly with WestJet.
'THIS DEAL WILL MAKE WESTJET A CAREER DESTINATION': WESTJET ALPA CHAIR
Chair of the ALPA WestJet Executive Council, Bernard Lewall says the tentative agreement with WestJet management “delivers on the goals of better job security, enhanced compensation and more flexible schedule.”
“This agreement I think will make WestJet a career destination again where pilots actually want to stay and where they will be able to hire new pilots and that's just fantastic for WestJet itself,” he said.
“It's going to help us be able to grow just as our CEO has mentioned time and time again that WestJet is a growth story. So we're hopeful that this will enable us to be a part of that growth story.”
Details of the agreement in-principle cannot yet be revealed due to the need for a ratification vote by the WestJet pilots’ group which will take place over the coming days.
“We'll have an executive summary that we will put out to the pilot group, either tonight or tomorrow, and the tentative agreement will be finalized early next week,” said Lewall.
“Once it's finalized, it will be put up to the pilot group and late next week we are planning road shows across the country to show our pilots what we've been able to accomplish and to give them an opportunity to ask questions.”
In a video posted to YouTube, WestJet CEO Alexis con Hoensbroech said, “This agreement is just one of many steps we are taking to re-establish WestJet as the friendly, reliable and affordable airline you know and love.”
A separate statement from WestJet says that while it is “ramping up its operations as quickly and efficiently as possible,” it would take time to resume full operations.