Travellers face delays, flight cancellations due to apparent WestJet staff shortage

From CBC News – link to source story

Some customers spending hours on hold with airline, which is working to recall staff laid off in pandemic

Brittany Roffel · CBC News · Posted: Aug 30, 2021

WestJet laid off thousands of employees in the early days of the pandemic, and the airline now appears understaffed as travel picks up again.  (Jonathan Hayward/The Canadian Press)

Many Canadian travellers are facing delays, flight cancellations and long waits on the phone for customer service as WestJet works to recall employees lost during the COVID-19 pandemic. 

When the pandemic hit in 2020 the airline laid off thousands of employees, and it now appears understaffed as travel picks up again. 

It’s led to frustration for customers like Kelowna, B.C., resident Heather Elaydi, whose four-hour flight to Toronto turned into a three-day ordeal after it was cancelled at short notice.

Elaydi had planned to fly from Kelowna to Toronto last Saturday to visit family, and specifically booked a direct flight because she walks with a cane and requested wheelchair assistance from WestJet. 

“Stopovers in particular are quite taxing physically for me. So, that was an intentional choice to get a direct flight. And that direct flight was cancelled the night before I was supposed to depart,” Elaydi told CBC News. 

The flight was rescheduled but with a stopover in Edmonton. Elaydi says she tried to contact WestJet to see if anything could be done but had no luck getting hold of them.

Travellers stand in line to check in for WestJet Airlines flights at Vancouver International Airport in October 2020. (Darryl Dyck/Bloomberg)

Ultimately, she decided to go ahead with the flight because the stopover was short. But once she arrived in Edmonton she learned her connection to Toronto had been cancelled.

After spending the night in Edmonton, the airline rebooked her on another connection through Winnipeg the following day and, after an hour-long layover, she finally made it to Toronto. 

Elaydi said while the staff at the Edmonton airport had been great, there has been no contact or acknowledgement from WestJet. 

“People who have disabilities, who have pain, who have specifically requested that they receive assistance while travelling, we’re not given any consideration on how these itinerary changes impact,” she said.

Travellers from all over Canada have taken to social media in frustration after spending hours on hold trying to contact the airline. 

Nathan Hennigar tried to get a hold of WestJet to reschedule his flight home to B.C. from Saskatchewan later this week. 

“I got to the four-hour mark and I hear a click and then the three beeps that follow your phone disconnecting. At that point, I was a little frustrated,” Hennigar said.

When he turned to the airline’s Twitter account, he was told his request would need to be done over the phone, resulting in another hours-long wait. 

WestJet working to recall employees

“We are in the process of recalling many WestJetters and hope to have our wait times back to pre-pandemic wait times soon,” WestJet wrote on Twitter.

Another passenger who faced troubles was Kaitlyn Stock, who planned to travel with WestJet from Vancouver back home to Toronto on Aug. 20. 

Arriving at the airport two hours prior to the flight, Stock says she found out it was cancelled because there was not enough crew onboard. It left her stuck in Vancouver waiting for a rescheduled flight nearly 48 hours later.

“It wasn’t just my flight that got cancelled, it was a lot of others as well, just because they didn’t have staff,” Stock said. 

Stock emailed WestJet inquiring about compensation for the hotel and food she paid for while waiting for her flight, but has been waiting over 10 days with no response. 

In a statement sent to CBC News, a WestJet spokesperson said the airline is currently facing high volumes over phone, email and social media as they work to bring back employees.

“While we are seeing positive signs of recovery, our flight schedules are built many months in advance based on anticipated demand,” said Kruger. 

She says that as travel restrictions lift and vaccination rates rise, they will work “diligently to predict the balance in demand.”

The spokesperson said WestJet will provide refunds when requested, given the passenger meets the eligibility criteria.