This is really upsetting’: Inconvenienced airline passengers struggle to get compensation under new rules

This is really upsetting’: Inconvenienced airline passengers struggle to get compensation under new rules

Sophia Harris · CBC News · Posted: Sep 18, 2019 4:00 AM ET

Canada’s new air passenger protection regulations promise up to $2,400 in compensation for customers denied boarding; however, some passengers have found that they need to do battle with their airline to collect their cash. 

That was the case for Chelsea Williamson who finally got her denied boarding compensation from WestJet one week ago — only after complaining to the Canadian Transportation Agency (CTA). 

“[WestJet] called me, and they did say that they made a mistake,” said Williamson, who lives in Edmonton. “It stinks that they weren’t willing to co-operate with me this way before I actually filed a complaint.”

The CTA reports it has received 147 passenger complaints concerning denied boarding issues since the new rules came into effect on July 15. Sixty-seven of the complaints involve Air Canada and 24 involve WestJet, while the rest are scattered among 27 other airlines.

Consumer advocate John Lawford said the complaints are inevitable, both because of airlines adjusting to the new rules, and what he believes is a reluctance among some carriers to embrace the regulations — which include hefty compensation for mishaps, such as lost baggage and flight delays.

All the major Canadian airlines have told CBC News they intend to fully comply with the regulations. 

But Williamson felt WestJet wasn’t playing fair after she and her husband were bumped from their flight on July 22. Instead of receiving the $900 each in compensation they believed they were owed, the airline offered them $250 in travel vouchers.

The couple’s journey began when they tried to board the first leg of their flight from Edmonton to Venice and were told that WestJet had switched the aircraft to a smaller one, so they had lost their confirmed seats.  

 “We must have been at the bottom of their boarding priority list,” said Williamson. 

The newlyweds were on their honeymoon and, because they were put on a later flight, they arrived in Venice around five hours later than expected.

Under the new regulations, denied boarding passengers are entitled to $900 for a delay under six hours.

But when Williamson complained to WestJet by email and demanded compensation, she was told the couple didn’t qualify because their rebooking was a pre-planned schedule change. 

When Williamson argued that their “schedule change” occurred last-minute, the airline responded that it was actually classified as a flight delay or cancellation.

After filing the complaint, WestJet eventually paid Williamson and her husband $900 each and offered an apology. 

“Following an internal investigation, we recognized that we failed to meet our obligations to these guests,” said spokesperson Morgan Bell in an email to CBC News. 

Williamson’s case has triggered a CTA investigation into whether WestJet’s policies on flight changes comply with the new regulations. The airline said it’s co-operating with the inquiry.

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