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.
Frustrated @AirCanada you confirm my booking but did not provide a confirmation# for my resort. Now I’m stuck here desperately looking for your help but your agent keeps hanging up on me..— thisgirltalks (@thisgirltalks1) January 20, 2022
Hey @AirCanada 3 hour wait on the phone and cannot reschedule flight through website or app. Need help here— Luiz Persechini 🇧🇷🇨🇦 (@LuizPersechini) January 16, 2022
@WestJet can someone from Westjet please call me…. My daughter is sick and can’t fly tommorrow … need to change flight to the next day… but can’t online and there is absolutely no one to talk to…. Most frustrating thing I have experienced… NEED HELP— angry earl (@AngryEarl) January 20, 2022
Have been on hold with Westjet for 4 hours and 15 minutes, insanity— Sue Snyder (@Unreal57) January 18, 2022
@WestJet hey you guys keep changing my flight by an entire day and now you've added a layover, it's very hard to constantly rebook hotels.— Andreas (@MeowjinBoo) January 17, 2022
When it asks you the question “is your flight within 24/48 hours” answer YES - even if it isn’t. If not, they put you on endless hold forever. When I called back and said my flight was within 24 hours (it wasn’t) I got in touch with a representative immediately.— campaign colin (@ColinBambury) January 4, 2022
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.
What a nightmare going back home to Vancouver. Flights cancelled, boarding denied, Air CA staff arguing with each other during boarding to name just a few things. Air Canada complaint department will be busy responding to Air Passenger Protection Regulations’ violations— Regiane Garcia (@GarciaReAlves) January 18, 2022
At the airport waiting for my flight home. Pretty much all flights have been canceled except mine. And I couldn’t be happier about that. I’m coming home @marximus420 set up the banners and get out the wine! Or just have a coffee ready for me with a napkin 😂 either way— 🎄🎁❄️𝕻𝖎𝖓𝖐𝕱𝖑𝖔𝖞𝖉𝕸𝖆𝖞𝖜𝖊𝖆𝖙𝖍𝖊r❄️🎁🎄 (@celticgrl31) January 18, 2022
Can confirm. Routine flight from YYC to YVR on the 27th. 6 hour delays then cancelled. Rescheduled next day at 1pm. One hour delay getting off tarmac.— Geoff Costeloe.eth (@gcosteloe) December 29, 2021
For a really terrible travel day with cancelled and missed flights… @Delta your YVR gate crew (especially Jennifer) and LAX lounge team are rockstars.— John Davidson (@JohnRDavidson) January 24, 2022
Hundreds of Canadians, including my daughters and grandkids, are stranded overnight in Cancun and not one official from @SunwingVacay has given anyone the slightest indication what’s wrong. Big time crazy corporate communications fail.— Don Martin (@DonMartinCTV) January 22, 2022
Yurrr. And the latest development… I’m now having a layover IN VANCOUVER to get to Toronto… @AirCanada surely some sort of compensation is to come from this! Missing another work day here— Tagwa 🇿🇼 (@Shuttersworth_) January 18, 2022
So far today, Air India, ANA, Japan Airlines, and Emirates have cancelled some services to the United States due to concerns the deployment of 5G wireless networks could affect the radio altimeters in the aircraft used on these routes. pic.twitter.com/xkFtRauxCk— Flightradar24 (@flightradar24) January 18, 2022
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.