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'Nightmare': Metro Vancouver travellers express outrage with Canadian airlines, travel providers

People share experiences on hold with airlines for multiple hours, massive delays, cancellations and more.

Numerous people have shared horror stories about experiences they've had flying or attempting to fly with Canadian airlines in recent weeks. 

And while some of these airline passengers were issued refunds or booked onto other flights, numerous people say they are still waiting for refunds from the country's largest airlines. Further, many of them say they couldn't even get airline representatives on the phone due to outstanding hold times. 

On Jan. 18, WestJet Airlines Inc. said it will cancel 20 per cent of its February flights, less than three weeks after announcing flight reductions of 15 per cent for January.

While Air Canada has not announced major flight consolidations, it cancelled 15 per cent of its flights in March and 11 per cent in February — 6,805 flights in total — within the last two weeks alone, according to figures from airline data company Cirium.

But it isn't only the airlines who are cancelling flights and issuing changes due to the spread of the highly-transmissible coronavirus strain. 

Numerous British Columbians have elected to cancel or change their travel plans in the wake of the federal government's reinstated nonessential travel advisory. And for many of them, the experience has involved long waits on the phone. 

Locals have taken to social media to share experiences on hold with Air Canada and WestJet for three and over four hours, respectively. Other individuals reported that they simply can't get anyone to speak with them. One individual said the only way to get through is to lie and say their flight was departing within the next 48 hours in order to get someone to give them immediate assistance. 

A popular B.C. TikTok star, Abbotsford's Kris Collins, also shared a nightmarish flight experience where the airline lost her bags after a long flight delay.

Booking through third-party suppliers 

Travellers who booked with travel agents are also frustrated about the cancellation policies and what they feel is a lack of clarification. 

Vancouver resident Carolyn Beavington says she feels she was misled by a third-party travel agency's cancellation advertising. She told Vancouver Is Awesome that she booked an all-inclusive couple's vacation package from Vancouver to Puerto Vallarta in Mexico with hotel and flights through Expedia.ca and thought it included free cancellation. 

"On [Nov.26, 2021] I booked a couple’s vacation package with Expedia.ca which offered:  'Free cancellation until January 5," she explained.

While she was excited to go on a holiday, Beavington made the decision to cancel her trip on Dec. 22 following Canada's announcement of the travel advisory. Much to her dismay, the travel provider only refunded the hotel and withheld $175 per person for the WestJet flights. She was told that Expedia.ca had no control over the WestJet cancellation penalty. 

"Expedia’s 'Vacation Package' website stated 'free cancellation' when I made my decision to book the trip.  The fine print added the Westjet cancellation fee," she said. "False advertising."

Mary Zajac, a spokesperson for Expedia.ca, told V.I.A. in an emailed statement that the travel agency "adheres to the policies set by our partners and we communicate these through the booking process."

In Beavington's booking, Zajac noted that WestJet had its own $175 cancellation fee per ticket, which was separate from the accommodation component of the package.

"This was shared in advance of booking and as part of the confirmation email. We always encourage travellers to double check they are comfortable with all of the policies and build flexibility into plans. At Expedia, a positive customer experience is very important to us, and we apologize for any frustration experienced."

Expedia.ca has since issued the Vancouver couple a $50 future travel voucher that will not expire until Feb. 28, 2023, as a "gesture of good will."

Passengers experience massive delays, numerous cancellations

Numerous Metro Vancouver residents have reported flight cancellations and significant delays flying in and out of the Lower Mainland in January 2021. While there have been interruptions to travel throughout the pandemic, the most recent disruptions have affected scores of passengers. 

Many people have reported that they are stranded in destination, while others claimed to experience massive delays; one individual wrote that they waited for six hours before their flight was cancelled and scheduled for the next day at 1 p.m.

Air passenger rights expert weighs in

Dr. Gábor Lukács is the founder and president of Air Passenger Rights—a group that gives airline customers information about their rights so they are capable of enforcing them against airlines. He told Vancouver Is Awesome in a phone interview that Canadians are frequently taken advantage of by airlines because they aren't aware of the rules. 

While there are some circumstances that the airlines cannot prevent, many cancellations "are simply economic decisions," he explained. "If not the vast majority of them."

If an airline cancels a flight because it is undersold, customers are entitled to compensation or to be booked on another flight.

"They are taking money in advance and therefore they have a responsibility," he described.

Even in an instance where an airline has to deice a plane, Lukács noted that they are not off the hook for booking a passenger on another flight, free of charge. Airlines must plan and prepare for inclement weather, which includes budgeting for severe winter weather. 

When it comes to schedule changes, or even if the airline changes a flight number, you may be entitled to a refund. 

But don't hold your breath waiting for the airline to provide you with refund options. Be proactive, advised Lukács.

"Many passengers, if [they] go back to the original booking and compare to what [their] itinerary shows now, I bet 33 per cent of passengers will see something that may be suitable for demanding a refund," he explained. 

"Remember, anything can change to your tickets...like a cancellation of a segment...if even the flight number changes...or a delay of over three hours. That's a sufficient reason to say, 'You know what, I want back my money." 

With files from the Canadian Press.