WestJet apologizes to customers, says refunds should be issued for rebooked flights

WestJet says it was wrong when it offered credits instead of full refunds to customers who wanted to cancel flights the airline re-booked. In some cases itineraries changed from direct flights to include stop overs and long delays.

“The communication that was originally made by WestJet in this instance was that you were only eligible for a travel credit and that was of course, wrong,” said Richard Bartrem, WestJet’s vice-president of communications.

Bartrem said the Calgary-based airline will now give customers money back in the original form of payment.

“Certainly (we) apologize for those people who were frustrated by the lack of consistency and the wrong information provided by WestJet. But as good brands do when you get it wrong, you make it right as quickly as you can,” said Bartrem.

The Canadian Transportation Agency (CTA) said since March 15, 2020, it received 486 air travel complaints from passengers claiming WestJet denied them refunds linked to re-booked flights they no longer wanted to take.

Over 3200 pandemic-related complaints pertaining to WestJet were received during that same period.

Bartrem said the pandemic has impacted the ability for the airline to plan ahead.

“It’s a bit of a shot in the dark for us given that this entire industry is based off a solid understanding of what the historical demand is and now with the pandemic that view into what historical demand is, is gone.”

Bartrem said schedules are built three months in advance and changes have been necessary to provide efficient service.

CUSTOMERS WAITING FOR REFUNDS

Sean Mudge said he is feeling skeptical he will receive a refund for flights booked from Calgary to Quebec City in the fall of 2020

“I think that’s something that should have been done eight, seven months ago.”

Mudge said he wanted to cancel the flight re-booked by WestJet because it would have shortened their holiday by two days. After repeated requests he was notified he would not be getting a full refund.

“I think they’ve just been playing the game with all of their customers stringing them along,” said Mudge. “The big frustration for me was that they were basically saying to me, we offered you an alternative and you didn’t accept it.”

He said he did file a complaint with the CTA and has not heard anything back.

“They are supposed to provide you with a refund according to CTA, the passenger rights. They just refuse to do that.”

Customer Cam McRae said he doesn’t want a refund for a flight that was re-booked, he just wants to get back on a direct flight.

“It’s a bait and switch. They will sell your seats out from under you because they’re going to find a higher bidder for your seats. Perhaps because we used one full fare and used a companion voucher. But regardless we booked it so far in advance we believed that our seats are secure,” said McRae.

McRae said tickets were booked in February to fly to Halifax in September. He said friends from Vancouver were flying in to Calgary to meet them and get on the direct flight.

McRae said they will now have to connect in Toronto, even though their friends are still on the direct flight and the direct flight wasn’t cancelled.

“It’s extraordinarily frustrating because we booked so far in advance knowing that with travel starting to open up again, things would be busy and we have booked all of our hotel rooms… all our vacation plans are set,” said McRae.

“What I’d like them to do is put us back on the same flight with our friends in the same seats that we booked, but those seats have been sold so I've been told.”

Bartrem said customers with concerns about their plans should contact WestJet. The airline is requesting patience, the call centre has been dealing with delays as it works through the backlog of requests.