Canada's second-largest airline, WestJet, says it apologizes for any confusion it may have caused due to flight changes or cancellations initiated by the airline.
For any WestJet-initiated schedule changes, where the schedule change was greater than 90 minutes or one or more stops were added, guests are now eligible for a refund to the original form of payment if desired.
WestJet spokesperson Madison Kruger tells Vancouver Is Awesome that the airline is in the process of actioning refunds to guests who requested them and that the company wants to "sincerely apologize for any inconvenience we may have caused."
A statement by The Canadian Transportation Agency (CTA) on March 25, 2020, notes that “the CTA believes that, generally speaking, an appropriate approach in the current context could be for airlines to provide affected passengers with vouchers or credits for future travel, as long as these vouchers or credits do not expire in an unreasonably short period of time (24 months would be considered reasonable in most cases).”
But in June 2020, WestJet quietly changed its refund policy to allow some customers whose flights were cancelled due to the pandemic to recoup their cash. The move made it the first major Canadian carrier to offer refunds rather than credit to passengers whose trips were called off due to the COVID-19 crisis.
Several months later, on Oct. 21, 2020, the company announced that it would begin providing refunds for all travellers, regardless of fare class booked where WestJet initiated the cancellation. This move made WestJet the first national airline in Canada to do so, too.
But many Vancouverites say they purchased WestJet tickets at the beginning of the pandemic and haven't seen refunds. Others feel the airline hasn't provided consistent or clear information regarding its refund or change policies.
Sam Schetchter, a communications professor at Douglas College, booked a ticket for travel in May 2020 that was cancelled due to the pandemic. However, he doesn't plan to travel within the next couple of years which means a ticket credit is useless for him.
Other locals have expressed difficulty accessing customer service after significant schedule changes. Some of them note that they stayed on hold with the airline for several hours.
WestJet responds to customer backlash
WestJet's flight schedules are built many months in advance based on anticipated demand, which means it can be difficult to predict, Kruger explains. "We recognize this situation has been frustrating for some of our guests."
As the pandemic continues, however, the airline anticipates "fewer schedule revisions." That said, travel restrictions and demand trends "continue to fluctuate."
Kruger notes that WestJet faces a slow recovery in comparison to pre-pandemic levels: "This July, WestJet will fly approximately 300 flights per day in comparison to the 700 flights per day in summer 2019."
Customers are asked to visit WestJet online for further information on eligibility and how to submit for a refund.