A Vancouver couple says WestJet cancelled their flights at the eleventh hour and the airline didn't help them find other flight options for days after the cancellation.
Chloe Burlo and Nicholas Burns were two of numerous travellers that were left in the dark during the chaos that ensued following the announcement of a potential WestJet strike that would have seen thousands of flights cancelled over the busy May long weekend.
The pair were in London, England on a holiday when the news broke about the potential strike action, but they weren't informed that their flight was cancelled until nine hours before they were scheduled to depart from the London Gatwick Airport (LGW) on May 19 at 11 a.m. They'd already completed their online check-in and been issued boarding passes.
"We were contacted at 2:05 a.m. that our flight was cancelled and all it said was this: 'Regrettably, we've had to cancel one or more flights on your itinerary. At this time, we are unable to offer an alternative WestJet flight,'" Burlo told V.I.A.
After receiving the email, the couple called WestJet but they were left on hold for an hour. Feeling stranded, they proceeded to the airport to get some assistance but there wasn't anyone available to help them. Eventually, WestJet reached out to them and said they could stay at the Sofitel London Gatwick Hotel with meals, free of charge.
But Burlo and Burns were still unable to get through to the airline to book an alternative flight home.
"We tried every outlet (messenger, phone call, social media) and could not get through to them," Chloe explained.
Passengers scramble to get tickets after WestJet flights cancelled
With no communication from the airline, they eventually booked their own flight with Air Canada that was scheduled to depart a couple of days later on May 21. They both had to be back in Canada for work and hoped to get back to Vancouver sooner, but this was the earliest departure available.
It wasn't until the day that they were scheduled to take their Air Canada flight on May 21 that the couple finally heard from WestJet, informing them that it had an alternative flight available for them on May 22.
"At this point, it was already too late, and leaving on the 22nd was not feasible as we both had to go back to work," emphasized the frustrated traveller.
Since a pilot strike is considered outside of the airline's control, WestJet was not obligated to issue them compensation above the cost of the flight. However, the cost of the last-minute flights they booked through Air Canada cost significantly more than their original ones.
"We had to spend $2,700 getting home late."
The travellers said they also won't receive a cash refund for the cancelled flight because they used credits from a previously cancelled flight to get their tickets. Instead, WestJet will issue them points for future travel.
"Our flight was booked partially with WestJet points from a cancelled trip in 2020 due to COVID. At the time in 2020 they only offered us WestJet points and not a full refund for our cancelled flight," Burlo said.
"At this point, we would rather just not fly with WestJet again."
WestJet weighs in on last-minute Vancouver flight cancellation
WestJet spokesperson Madison Kruger told V.I.A. that it apologizes to all guests that were impacted by the proposed strike action, adding that they were "refunded or re-accommodated, as applicable."
Guests with travel booked between May 15 and May 21 were also provided with "additional flexibility for booking new tickets" or were issued a refund to their original form of payment. Since the couple used travel credits to book their flights, there aren't eligible for a cash refund, explained Kruger.
The airline also sent an email to guests with the details concerning cancellations, including options to manage their trips or get refunds.
"It's important to note that May long weekend is a peak travel period for WestJet, other Canadian carriers and airlines travelling to and from Canada, and as a result, there were extremely limited options to re-accommodate impacted guests across our network as quickly as they deserved."
For this Vancouver couple, hotel accommodation was the first available option as the airline's Guest Support team worked to support guests.