WestJet sparks customer fury after denying refunds for canceled flights – again


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WestJet again sparked customer fury after the airline canceled several flights in July and told passengers they were not entitled to refunds.

“This is unacceptable” Shanie Couture said.

With the easing of COVID-19 restrictions, the Quebec woman has booked her family of four on a return flight from Montreal to Edmonton, departing July 24.

But nearly two weeks later, WestJet canceled the flight and booked the family on a new flight, which now included a stopover in Toronto each way.

Couture only wanted a direct flight, as she was traveling with two young children and had to travel over 260 kilometers from Quebec to get to Montreal airport.

“This is the first time my one year old has flown. I wanted to make it easier for them by doing just one flight, ”said Couture. “So I wasn’t going to travel that distance and then have two flights to manage.”

When she called WestJet and asked for a refund for the $ 1,768 she spent on tickets, Couture said an employee turned down her request, telling her she could only get credit for a future flight. .

Couture unfortunately accepted the credit and spent an additional $ 2,369 to rebook his family on a preferable flight with another airline.

“I was very disappointed,” she said. “I work in customer service. If I can’t complete something for a customer, I pay them back. I don’t give them store credit. That’s not how it works.”

Shanie Couture is featured with her husband, Rock Leclerc, her five-year-old daughter, Katherine, and her one-year-old son, Nicolas. (Submitted by Shanie Couture)

CBC News interviewed four WestJet customers who had each booked flights to different destinations, all of which left in July. In each case, WestJet canceled its direct flight in mid-June and rebooked the customer on a longer flight that now included a stopover. In two cases, the new flights departed on different dates.

Each passenger said they requested a refund – but only received a credit.

Three of the four passengers ended up changing reservations with another airline, essentially paying for their tickets twice.

And there are dozens of complaints from similar customers about WestJet’s flight changes posted on social media.

In an email request to WestJet, CBC News pointed out that Canada‘s Air Passenger Protection Regulations (APPRs) suggest that customers surveyed were entitled to refunds.

Under federal rules, airlines must offer refunds for flights canceled for reasons within their control, as well as offer to book passengers on another airline if they cannot find another flight departing within nine hours. following the initial departure.

Following multiple email exchanges, WestJet responded that it had reviewed customers’ cases and determined they deserved refunds, which the airline said it would now provide.

“We apologize for the inconvenience and are reviewing our processes to make the necessary improvements,” WestJet spokesman Morgan Bell said in an email.

It shouldn’t be that difficult for passengers to get a refund they’re entitled to, said Ian Jack, spokesperson for the Canadian Automobile Association (CAA), a non-profit serving Canadian travelers. .

“You have to treat your customers well,” he said. “That clearly did not happen in this case until additional pressure was applied.”

“Put people first”

Last year, after the pandemic cut off most air travel, WestJet and several other airlines in the face of criticism for refusing to reimburse canceled flights.

But by October 2020, WestJet changed its tone and became the first Canadian national airline to announce that it would reimburse flights canceled due to the pandemic.

“We are an airline that has built a reputation for putting people first,” said Ed Sims, President and CEO of WestJet.A declaration at this moment.

That was not the message Seema Shirali, of Markham, Ont., Said he received when WestJet canceled a direct flight she had booked for herself and her husband, from Toronto to New York, for July 30.

Seema Shirali was upset after WestJet canceled her direct Toronto-New York flight, only offering credit when she asked for a refund. The proposed alternative would have added 4.5 hours to his trip. (submitted by Seema Shirali)

The airline booked the couple on stopover flights to Atlanta, adding almost 4.5 hours to what was originally a 2.5-hour trip. On top of that, Shirali’s husband has been booked to return home a day earlier than his original return date.

This meant that his four-day trip to visit the couple’s daughter would only last three days.

“The problem is, he has very little time,” said Shirali. “I was really upset.”

WestJet refused to reimburse her, she said, so she reluctantly accepted a $ 502 credit for the couple’s departure flight, as well as her husband’s return flight and booked them with another company. air – at an additional cost of $ 707.

“Now we have credits and money blocked,” Shirali said. “What if it happened again?” For example, do I really want to reuse WestJet? “

‘Unpredictable demand’ during COVID

When CBC News first contacted WestJet last week about its recent spate of flight cancellations, the airline made no mention of offering refunds.

WestJet had to make flight adjustments “to account for unpredictable and inconsistent demand trends that are influenced by the changes [government] travel policies and advice, ”said Bell.

She added that the airline “was doing its best to resolve the complaints.”

The federal government says it will soon ease restrictions on fully vaccinated Canadians and permanent residents returning from international travel. 2:14

WestJet did not say whether it considers the flight adjustments to be out of its control, due to the pandemic.

Consumer advocate Jack argues that at this point the move is a controllable business decision.

“Airlines have had months to figure out how to deal with these circumstances, to understand what their [passenger] the fillers tend to be.

CBC News briefed WestJet on the airline’s pledge to reimburse pandemic-related cancellations, the APPR rules on reimbursements for flights under an airline’s control, as well as US Department of Transportation regulations requiring airlines to and from the United States to reimburse canceled flights for any reason.

Two of four customers surveyed had booked flights to the United States

Bell responded that WestJet had determined that the four customers did indeed deserve a refund, but did not provide reasons for its decision.

As for Couture, she said a WestJet agent contacted her Thursday evening to begin the refund process.

“If they really pay me back, I’ll be really happy. It’s just – it’s sad it took this to get paid back.”

The Canadian Transportation Agency (CTA) said it has received complaints about the case and is monitoring the situation. Two clients interviewed by CBC News had filed complaints with the CTA.


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