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Everything Vancouver travellers need to know about cancelled flights right now

You need to read this guide if you booked a flight over the holidays.
There were numerous WestJet and Air Canada flight cancellations an the wake of stormy Vancouver weather.

Thousands of travellers won't make it home for the holidays following a second winter storm that has grounded hundreds of flights out of Vancouver International Airport (YVR). 

In a press conference Thursday (Dec. 22), Tamara Vrooman, President and CEO at Vancouver Airport Authority, said the majority of flights were departing from the airport on schedule following mass cancellations earlier in the week.

On Monday night, YVR saw an "unprecedented" number of flight cancellations caused by the worst winter storm of the year. But more cancellations were expected at the airport ahead of another major winter storm, added Vrooman. 

In a statement issued Friday morning, YVR said it received "heavy snow" overnight Thursday and expects an additional 8 to 14 cm of precipitation throughout the day. The rising temperatures will "likely transition snow and ice pellets into freezing rain" but the airport is operational. 

Multiple flights to the United States departed Friday morning, and some international flights that were previously affected by the restrictions are now preparing for departure.

Additional airport staff have been deployed to help organize luggage and help passengers locate their belongings. They will also support travellers in the terminals, by "providing blankets, refreshments, and real-time assistance."

Travellers are encouraged to check flight details with YVR online or with their airline before arriving. They should also give themselves extra time to commute to the airport. 

Air Canada flight cancellations in wake of stormy Vancouver weather 

Air Canada issued a statement Thursday evening, noting that passengers can cancel their flights online and receive a full refund or voucher on tickets purchased on or before Dec. 21 for any flight between Dec. 22 and Dec. 26 due to the winter storm. 

Refunds and vouchers will be issued for itineraries that include a flight to, from, or via Vancouver (YVR), Toronto (YYZ), Montreal (YUL), and Ottawa (YOW), according to the airline. 

Travellers who are scheduled to fly during the affected period can retrieve their bookings to change their flight up to one hour before departure, free of charge, to another date between now and Dec. 31.

But Air Canada notes that the changes are "subject to availability in the cabin you originally purchased" on your ticket and that a fare difference will apply if it isn't available. In other words, an economy class ticket cannot be exchanged for a premium economy one -- even if it is the only ticket available -- unless you are willing to pay the fare difference. 

WestJet flight cancellations at YVR due to the winter storm 

WestJet said that it "proactively cancelled" all of its scheduled flights to YVR on Thursday night ahead of the winter storm. The cancellations apply to both arriving and departing flights and are in effect until "late afternoon" on Friday, dependent on weather conditions. 

The airline has also "proactively cancelled" all flights to Abbotsford International Airport (YXX), Victoria International Airport (YYJ), Nanaimo Airport (YCD) and Comox Airport (YQQ).

So far, the cancellations impact 126 flights across the five networks and WestJet says "guests have been notified."

Travellers who were scheduled to fly between Dec. 18 and Dec. 26 and cancelled or would like to cancel their flights or WestJet Vacations packages, may be eligible for a refund.

The enhanced flexible change and cancellation policies will remain in place until Jan. 8, 2023, but customers must request them before Dec. 26. 

Customers should fill out WestJet's refund form if their flight was cancelled ahead of the storm.

The airline says the contact centre is currently only available to guests with confirmed reservations departing within the next 72 hours. 

What to consider if your Vancouver flights are cancelled

Vancouver air passengers looking to recoup all of their losses might be in for a rude awakening following the snowstorm that kept the majority of planes grounded this week. 

While airlines must refund passengers or provide them with the next available departing flight, they likely won't have to cover the cost of hotels and meals. 

Air passenger rights advocate Dr. Gábor Lukács tells Vancouver Is Awesome in an interview that winter weather is out of the airline's control. That said, the carrier should refund their ticket or book them on the next available flight. 

"The passengers can choose just not to travel and then they have to be given a full refund to their original form of payment," he explained. "But if the passengers choose to travel they are responsible for meals, accommodations, and so on." 

The airline must book the passenger on the next available flight even if the ticket is with another airline. If there are no flights available, passengers must wait until there is a flight -- but the airline must re-book them. 

"This is true only if the airline is unable to rebook the passenger on its own network within 48 hours of the original departure time -- and on domestic travel only for large carriers like Air Canada, WestJet, and Swoop," he noted. 

In some cases, however, passengers need to hold the airlines accountable. An international ticket could get booked to the closest available airport if there is no flight into the original city. In other words, a flight to Seattle from Los Angeles could be booked if there are no flights into Vancouver, as per the Montreal Convention international air passenger rules.

But what about passengers who waited for hours on the YVR tarmac in planes -- in some cases for upwards of 10 hours?

"I would suggest those passengers to sue," he said. 

"Forcible confinement is also a crime under s. 279(2) of the Criminal Code. That was held to include situations when someone is not allowed off a car even if the doors are not locked."

Find out more about getting refunds for flight cancellations and delays with our comprehensive guide.

Correction: An earlier version of this story stated that a large airline must book a passenger on the next available flight. This is true, however, they only need to do this after 48 hours have passed from the original departure time.