B.C. couple wins compensation after honeymoon flight abruptly cancelled

From The Vancouver Sun – link to source story🔗

Airline Passenger Protection Regulations, which came into being in 2019, helped the B.C. couple receive compensation for inconvenience and expenses they paid when WestJet cancelled their flight

By Susan Lazaruk  •  January 14, 2022

Airline Passenger Protection Regulations, which came into being in 2019, helped the B.C. couple receive compensation for inconvenience and expenses they paid when WestJet cancelled their flight.
Airline Passenger Protection Regulations, which came into being in 2019, helped the B.C. couple receive compensation for inconvenience and expenses they paid when WestJet cancelled their flight. Photo by Jeff McIntosh /The Canadian Press

A Burnaby couple whose Jamaican honeymoon flight was cancelled at the last minute by WestJet have been compensated under a little-known federal passenger rights regulation, and an advocate says it should serve as an example for other passengers whose flights are delayed or cancelled.

Ryan Alguire said he and his wife felt cheated out of two days of their trip to Montego Bay in August when WestJet delayed their departure for 48 hours citing a staff shortage. They had to cancel the WestJet flight and rebook on Air Canada, leaving the next day.

What irked Alguire most was WestJet didn’t notify them of the cancellation before they learned about it by checking online on the way to the airport. He thought, “this can’t be for real.”

He found the Air Passenger Rights (Canada) Facebook page , where he learned Canada safeguards rights for air passengers with the Airline Passenger Protection Regulations, passed in 2019.

Regulations include the right to compensation for passengers when an airline delays or cancels a flight for a reason within an airline’s control, including those that stem from commercial decisions or those relating to day-to-day operations, such as aircraft maintenance or staffing schedules. It also includes an airline’s obligation to rebook passengers on cancelled flights within a certain time, if necessary on a competing airline.

These two rights under the APPR are “probably the least known and least obeyed rights of passengers,” said Gabor Lukacs, founder and president of the Air Passenger Rights (Canada) group.

“Airlines try to blame the cancellations on COVID — these cancellations relate to poor staffing and hiring decisions, which are within the carrier’s control,” he said in an email. “They are not aviation-safety related”  — such as an oil leak — therefore not necessarily outside of an airline’s control.

Passengers should know their rights — which are rooted in common law and Canadian and provincial legislation — and know how to pursue them, said Lukacs.

“Ryan’s story shows that standing your ground, buying a ticket on another airline, and then forcing the original airline to pay up is the way to go,” he said. He said WestJet should have rebooked the couple on the Air Canada flight at the time.

The couple filed a claim with WestJet for the difference in the cost of the Air Canada flight, the overnight layover in a Toronto hotel with that flight, which wasn’t necessary with the WestJet flight, baggage fees and compensation for the delay.

The airline, “with a lot of legal jargon,” denied all claims, arguing the staff shortage presented a safety issue and therefore exempted WestJet from compensating them under the regulations.

The couple then filed a small claims case in B.C.’s civil resolution tribunal. During a conference call with the tribunal mediator and a WestJet lawyer, the airline agreed to pay, including $400 each for the inconvenience of the cancellation, and a tribunal hearing wasn’t necessary.

“We had to jump through some hoops,” said Alguire. “But it was 100 per cent worth it.”

He said he hopes his story would help others learn about air passenger rights.

“This wasn’t fair,” said Alguire, who added that airlines are legislated to do better and are not doing so.

“That was my motivating factor” in pursuing a claim, Alguire said.

WestJet did not respond to a request for comment.

Its website includes a section on how to proceed with a claim for compensation for cancelled or delayed flights.

Reasons for delay or cancellation considered outside of an airline’s control would include weather, a medical emergency, security threat, wildlife collision, war, labour dispute or manufacturing defect, according to the Airline Passenger Protection Regulations website.