WestJet, Air Canada passengers stunned after travel partners compensated $1,000 but got nothing

Frederik van der Veen was convinced he would be compensated for his canceled WestJet flight, which caused a 12-hour delay in July when he flew home to Montreal from Puerto Vallarta, Mexico.

After all, his wife and travel partner, Irma De La Luz Perez, had already filed for and received $1,000 in compensation for the same flight. But much to its surprise, WestJet rejected Van der Veen’s claim, stating that the flight disruption was “due to an operational problem” beyond the airline’s control.

“[I’m] disappointed and a little bewildered,’ he said. “Why would they pay one and not the other if we’re on the same flight?”

CBC News interviewed three WestJet passengers and two Air Canada passengers who, when they asked for compensation, were flatly denied — even though their travel partner received $1,000 for the same flight disruption.

“The rules don’t work,” said Air Canada passenger Dave Marrone.

After a flight cancellation in August, Marrone’s wife and travel partner, Kielyn, was awarded $1,000 in compensation for resulting in a 19-hour delay on their return journey from London to Sudbury, Ont.

But Air Canada rejected Marrone’s claim for the same flight, telling him the cancellation was beyond the airline’s control or related to safety.

“It seems like it’s a real grab bag of how it’s applied, how it works, and who gets compensated,” says Marrone, who lives just outside Espanola, Ontario.

Kielyn and Dave Marrone were delayed 19 hours when they flew home from a trip to the UK in August. When they applied to Air Canada for compensation, only Kielyn received $1,000. (Dave Marrone)

Under federal rules, airlines are only required to pay compensation — up to $1,000 — if a flight delay or cancellation is within an airline’s control and not required for safety reasons.

After this spring and summer’s travel chaos, which led to numerous flight delays and cancellations, many passengers complained to CBC News that they were wrongly not awarded compensation. Since April, more than 19,000 airline passengers have filed complaints with the Canadian Transportation Agency (CTA) about flight disruptions, according to the agency.

The wave of complaints prompted Transport Minister Omar Alghabra to repeatedly warn carriers to comply with the rules.

“Airlines must respect travelers’ rights and compensate travelers who qualify,” he said at a transport committee hearing in August.

Airlines respond

Both Air Canada and WestJet have repeatedly told CBC News that they do comply with air passenger regulations.

About two hours after CBC News inquired about Marrone’s case, Air Canada informed him that it had reassessed his claim and that he would receive $1,000 in damages.

In another case, Air Canada compensated passenger Bob Hays last week — four months after he complained about not being compensated, even though his fiancée got $1,000 for the same 24-hour flight delay in June.

“It was frustrating,” says Hays, who lives in Prince Rupert, BC. “It’s almost comical, but it’s not comical that two people can be on the same flight and make different decisions.”

In an email, Air Canada spokesman Peter Fitzpatrick blamed both mismatches on “a processing error”.

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WestJet said it made a mistake in the cases of all three passengers CBC News interviewed, but that in two cases, including Van der Veen’s, the airline mistakenly paid out $1,000 to the passengers’ travel partners.

“We apologize for the confusion and understand the frustration any discrepancies may have caused,” spokesman Madison Kruger said in an email.

That means that Van der Veen will not receive any money. However, he still believes he owes compensation because WestJet never provided details about the “operational issue” beyond his control that caused his flight’s cancellation.

“What are they talking about?” said van der Veen. “It’s a bit of a gong show.”

Paul Stephenson and head Lisa were both 18 hours late flying home from London. When they applied to Air Canada for compensation, only Head received $1,000. (Paul Stephenson)

Following CBC News’ investigation this week, a WestJet passenger was awarded as much as $1,000 in compensation: Paul Stephenson of Salt Spring Island, B.C. Previously, only his travel partner, Lisa Head, was compensated for the 19-hour delay they incurred when flying from London to Victoria in January.

In March, WestJet told Stephenson he was not eligible for compensation because his flight disruption was caused by weather. In April, after pointing out that his partner had been awarded compensation for the same flight, WestJet again rejected Stephenson’s claim, saying the case was closed.

“It’s pretty bad customer service,” he said. “The Canadian Transportation Agency needs to be much tougher on airlines and enforce the rules regarding compensation.”

WestJet was fined

In September, the CTA, Canada’s transport regulator, issued the first fines to an airline for violating offset rules. The recipient, WestJet, was fined 55 violations in January for failing to provide compensation or explain why compensation was denied within 30 days of a passenger’s claim.

The 55 fines ($200 each) totaled $11,000. Former Air Canada executive John Gradek says this isn’t enough of a deterrent for a major airline.

“It’s really just a token slap on the wrist to basically say, ‘You bad boys — or girls,'” says Gradek, a lecturer and program coordinator for the aviation management program at McGill University.

He said the CTA should look to the US Department of Transportation this week announced it is imposing more than $7.25 million US in fines against six airlines for “extreme delays” in issuing flight refunds.

“You have to get the attention of the airlines,” Gradek said. “The U.S. Department of Transportation is now saying, ‘Okay, we’re playing hard.'”

WestJet has not commented on the fines.

The CTA said that if the airline commits the same offense again within the next four years, it will face stiffer penalties. The agency added that when it comes to consumer protection, its main focus is on resolving passenger complaints to help them get what they are entitled to.

Van der Veen has filed a complaint with the CTA and hopes that he will finally receive the compensation he is entitled to.

Under the new air passenger regulations, the amount of flight disruption compensation will be based on the amount of time a traveler is delayed before reaching their final destination. (CBC)

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