Travellers share headaches, from lost bags to cancelled flights

Travel headaches abound

Numerous travellers have shared horror stories about recent experiences with Canadian airlines.

And while some of the passengers were issued refunds or booked onto other flights, numerous people say they are still waiting for refunds from the country's largest airlines. Many 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 due to the highly-transmissible omicron COVID strain.

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

Locals have taken to social media to share they've been on hold for three and four hours with Air Canada and WestJet. Others reported they simply can't get anyone to speak to.

Abbotsford's Kris Collins says her bags were lost after a long flight delay.

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

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

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.

Numerous travellers have reported flight cancellations and significant delays flying in and out of the Lower Mainland this month.

Many have reported being 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.

Dr. Gábor Lukács, founder and president of Air Passenger Rights, says 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."

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