BC mom joins calls for airline changes after flight cancellations cost her $1,000

Apr 21 2023, 2:17 am

Travellers left stranded after airlines cancelled flights back into BC because of a winter storm in December are still fighting for their refunds. 

Among them is Kitty Sun, who works for Daily Hive. She was on vacation in Hawaii with her husband and three kids for two weeks last December when a snowstorm hit back home. 

The day before they were preparing to fly back into Vancouver, Sun happened to check their flight status. 

“No email or anything was sent to me and then all of a sudden, [the site read] ‘your flight is cancelled,'” she recalled. 

After waiting on hold for a WestJet agent for three and a half hours, the earliest the airline was able to fly Sun and her family out together was three days later, she said. 

vancouver international airport snow winter yvr

Snow and ice impacting operations at Vancouver International Airport, December 2022. (Vancouver International Airport)

While an additional four nights in Hawaii may seem appealing to some people, Sun said the extra costs associated were not exactly a dream come true. 

She added she was at the airline’s “beck and call” when it came to expenses. 

The family would go on to pay nearly $1,000 in accommodation costs and miss out on celebrating Christmas back home. 

In January, WestJet responded to Sun’s claim, which was submitted through the Air Passenger Protection Regulations (APPR), and said it could not approve her claim because the weather was outside the airline’s control. She was also denied out-of-pocket expenses for the same reason in March. 

The airline suggested Sun contact her travel insurance or credit card provider for the expenses instead. Sun said she would be filing a complaint through the Canadian Transportation Agency. 

“I understand a one-day delay if it was weather-related because at that time on [December] 23, when we’re supposed to fly back, YVR was open and flights were coming in. So it was WestJet being, I guess, proactive,” Sun expressed. 

Airlines are using weather as “boilerplate excuse”: advocate

At the time, the airline did admit it was proactively cancelling all scheduled flights arriving and departing from Vancouver International Airport beginning December 22. WestJet did list its network-wide cancellations due to the wintry weather slamming Canada.

However, Sun suggests, “It didn’t seem like it was a weather thing because other flights were coming in already.”

Sun’s experience is one many Canadian travellers are also working through. 

President of the Air Passenger Rights advocacy group, Gabor Lukacs, claims airlines use the weather as a “boilerplate excuse.”

While Lukacs said he is not convinced airlines are being truthful about the reason it cancels some flights and calls many explanations from Canadian airlines “bogus.” He added, “It’s unfortunate but it is really not WestJet’s fault.”

“[It is] APPR’s fault and the government’s fault for having made [these] regulations.”

Recommended changes

However, Lukacs says a parliamentary committee’s recent recommendations are “the strongest report I’ve seen from the House of Commons press committee in the past six years.” 

Twenty-one recommendations are being made, which include changes to Canada’s air passenger rights framework.

In addition, there are stricter enforcement and compensation policies for flight delays. These policies include higher monetary penalties, smoother compensation claims processing, and automatic payout offers if a passenger’s flight is cancelled, deferred or denied.

However, these recommendations don’t go far enough in terms of fixing a loophole which allows airlines to claim it is cancelling a flight for “safety reasons.” He also says the report’s recommendation to create a telecommunications-like complaint resolution process “is not going to work because air travel is far more evidence intensive.”

Lukacs is urging the government to additionally adopt a bill he initiated (and put forward by NPD MP Taylor Bachrach), which would “bring Canada in line with the European gold standard.”

Some suggestions include setting out what constitutes “extraordinary circumstances” and requiring the Canadian Transportation Agency to make certain regulations “requiring an air carrier to pay minimum monetary compensation for inconvenience in the case of a flight delay, flight cancellation or denial of boarding that is not caused by extraordinary circumstances.”

This petition has received over 1,500 signatures so far. 

Even a “small token” of remorse would be appreciated

In Sun’s case, she admits her story is not the worst one out of the thousands of travellers who were impacted over the holiday season. But her experience has made her realize why some people have no choice but to sleep in airports for days because of the “crazy” costs associated with finding last-minute accommodations and flights. 

vancouver international airport snow winter yvr

“Comfort area” set up by the Canadian Red Cross at Vancouver International Airport during the December 2022 winter storm disruptions. (Vancouver International Airport)

She added, even if WestJet were to offer a “small token” and apologize, she would be happier with its response to the cancelled flights. 

“It just seemed like … they really just don’t care.”

Daily Hive reached out to WestJet but did not receive a response in time for deadline.

Nikitha MartinsNikitha Martins

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