Canada's second-largest airline may have avoided a massive strike but many of its customers say they've been left in the dark.
Tensions have been running high since the start of the week in Canada, with many travellers bracing for a potential WestJet strike that would have seen thousands of flights cancelled over the busy May long weekend.
Metro Vancouverites began making contingency plans after the airline's pilots' union issued a 72-hour strike notice on Monday evening (May 15), with many of them opting to book an alternative flight in case theirs was cancelled.
Vancouver travel blogger La Carmina booked a more expensive flight through Bellingham to Las Vegas to attend a work event because she wasn't willing to risk her Vancouver flights with WestJet.
"I need to be in Vegas for a magazine assignment with my professional photographer... so it's stressful. I'm constantly checking Twitter," she told V.I.A. "I’m very frustrated about this."
Numerous Vancouverites scrambled to make new arrangements in the wake of the looming strike, while others said they were anxiously waiting to see the events unfold.
And while WestJet and its pilots' union reached an 11th-hour deal, the airline had already cancelled numerous flights across its network, affecting travel on Wednesday, Thursday and Friday.
WestJet began ramping up its flight schedule following the agreement with the union, but warned customers that the "full resumption of operations will take time" and they should check the status of their flights before heading to the airport.
At Vancouver International Airport (YVR), six WestJet flights that were scheduled to arrive Friday and two that were scheduled to depart were cancelled.
Two of the carrier's flights that are scheduled to arrive Saturday have also been cancelled, including one from Toronto and one from Atlanta.
V.I.A. has reached out to WestJet for additional comment.
Vancouverites frustrated and angry over WestJet re-booking process
Metro Vancouverite Nicholas Burns wrote on Twitter that his flight was cancelled in the wee hours of Friday at 2 a.m., noting that he wasn't provided with information about what to do next.
"Communication is non-existent apparently as I've tried all the methods suggested by WestJet on their app and website," he said.
Another frustrated traveller responded to his tweet, remarking that the hold time for changing or re-booking flights was two to three hours and that he was disconnected once after waiting for two hours.
"They'll try not to re-book you on a competitive airline but if you're firm they'll do it. We got stuck in the EU after our flight was cancelled overnight," he wrote.
Chris Knezetic chimed in on the discussion, saying he was on the phone for four hours "and the ticket agent couldn't provide any help."
And while WestJet and YVR have instructed travellers not to go to the airport, Sean Beardow wrote in a tweet that, "both their phone lines and Twitter are lost causes."
Vancouverite Yigit Yuce said he was promised a refund for his cancelled flight and the website informed him that there was a "technical difficulty." The error message notes that the flight "has been cancelled" but there were issues processing the refund.
He was scheduled to depart YVR for Cancun Sunday but preemptively cancelled his flight due to the potential strike.
Vancouver resident Kyle Legare shared his frustrating re-booking experience in a long Twitter thread, where he explained that WestJet cancelled his flight a few hours before he was scheduled to leave. After that, he was prompted to call a customer support line to re-book where he says he spent six hours on hold.
While he was re-booked onto an Air Canada flight that was scheduled to depart the following day, that flight was cancelled, too.
"I call Air Canada to help remedy this and they remind me that since WestJet booked it I'll have to call them," he explained, adding that he then spent four hours on hold and was informed by WestJet that he should be speaking to Air Canada.
After losing 48 hours from his 96-hour trip, he characterizes WestJet as "an absolute embarrassment of a company" that has "managed to go below what people expect as even a minimum level of customer service from airlines in Canada."
As a glutton for punishment, I repeat the back and forth finding a manager who attempts to book me on a new WestJet flight but through Air Canada (makes sense right?). Now I have two flights in my itinerary and Air Canada nor Westjet has any clue which one I'm supposed to be on! pic.twitter.com/JUIy91YXtK— Kyle Legare (@kylelegare) May 19, 2023
Re-booking Vancouver flights following averted WestJet strike
WestJet must offer travellers a refund or book them on the next available flight with another airline, even if they do not have an interline agreement, according to Canada's Air Passenger Protection Regulations (APPR). However, compensation will vary based on whether the flights are domestic or international.
The Air Passenger Rights group, founded by president Gabor Lukas, advises travellers to record their interactions with WestJet as evidence, "including refusal to offer compensation or re-booking, may turn out to be crucial evidence to enforce your rights to compensation."
The APPR guidelines qualify a pilot strike as outside of an airline's control, meaning that travellers on domestic flights may be entitled to less than people travelling internationally.
Have a look at the APR's guide on what you should consider if WestJet cancels your ticket.