WestJet passengers question baggage issue that left them stranded at Halifax airport

After a week in Florida with her folks, Jillian and Justin Bean should be fairly well-rested, but that's not quite the case thanks to an unusual experience at the Halifax Stanfield International Airport when they touched down Sunday night.

Although their flight was direct, their departure was delayed in Orlando by three or four hours, which apparently caused another problem when they landed in Halifax.

After deplaning from the international flight, the process seemed typical until passengers tried to collect their baggage -- a necessary step to clear customs and go home.

Minutes turned to hours, with passengers getting increasingly agitated by the delay and no one providing answers about what was going on.

"Two hours in, pretty frustrated," Justin Bean told CTV News.

"We were already on a four-hour delay on the way in. And then, to arrive with no explanation or direction from anyone, whether it was airport security or WestJet, just standing around waiting, and the stress level increasing as all the passengers were talking to each other and trying to come up with assumptions as to what was going."

"That's the whole problem," added Jillian Bean.

"That's why I'm upset: there's such a lack of accountability here."

Video from the scene showed a number of passengers gathered around a WestJet agent, who's heard saying, "I'm just coming out here to deliver a message. I'm not a lead. I'm not anybody in control."

Two Halifax Regional Police officers also showed up, but it's unclear who called them.

Justin Bean says that proved to be disappointing as well.

"Well, at first, we thought, ’Great, we can leave. They'll let us out of the door. It seems like a human right,'" said Bean.

"But, in reality, it kind of felt like the cops were there to keep the mob at bay while WestJet did their thing behind the scenes."

In an email to CTV News Monday afternoon, the airline acknowledged the problem and apologized.

"We can confirm that WestJet flight 1041, travelling between Orlando International Airport (MCO) and Halifax Stanfield International Airport (YHZ), experienced a delay at MCO and consequently arrived late in Halifax yesterday evening," wrote WestJet media relations advisor Madison Kruger.

"Upon arrival, our third-party service providers, including our baggage handlers, across YHZ were working through significant delays due to many off-schedule arrivals and resource constraints, which resulted in a substantial and unfortunate delay in providing guests with their baggage following their flight.

"We sincerely apologize for the inconvenience our guests faced as a result and appreciate their patience; we understand how impactful it can be when travel does not go as planned.

"We are committed to doing everything we can to deliver the WestJet experience our guests expect and deserve.”

"Across our network, we are working alongside our third-party service providers to alleviate baggage delays and have invested in additional WestJet oversight to support our providers responsible for actioning and delivering our baggage services in a timely manner.

There's little doubt there's been a major increase in air travel in recent months, and airport officials admit staffing shortages continue to be an issue.

"Many of our partners continue to experience staff shortages, and of course, there's now an increase in demand after two years of very little activity," said Tiffany Chase, the director of public affairs, marketing and customer relations at Halifax Stanfield International Airport.

The Bean family, who were travelling with their 18-month-old toddler Oliver, did get to speak with WestJet customer service on the phone early Monday afternoon and were directed to file for compensation through the website.

Jillian Bean says they will likely do that, but in the meantime, she remains disappointed by the experience.

"We need to figure out some other way to do it if you're going to continue to encourage people to travel," she said.