CALGARY—In an early test of new passenger-rights regulations, an Edmonton woman has received greater compensation from WestJet for disrupting her honeymoon.
Though Chelsea Williamson and her husband Sean Fitzpatrick eventually got their $900 each, Williamson is still frustrated with the effort it took: phone calls, Twitter messages and finally an official complaint with the Canadian Transportation Agency (CTA).
“I understand that the regulations are new, and there are definitely going to be hiccups in terms of the airlines knowing how to properly apply the new rules,” she said. “But the extent that I had to go to … was really disappointing.”
On July 22, Williamson and Fitzpatrick were on their way to their honeymoon when they found out their flight had been changed without their knowledge. The switch resulted in a five-hour delay.
After several attempts to get an answer, Williamson was told the flight change was due to overselling of tickets by Delta, WestJet’s partner airline. She said WestJet called the situation a “schedule change” and offered each of them 125 “WestJet dollars” to put toward future purchases.
However, Williamson felt the situation amounted to “denied boarding.” As defined by Air Passenger Protection Regulations that came into force a week before, denied boarding takes place when a passenger has a valid ticket but isn’t allowed on because the flight is full for reasons within the airline’s control, such as overbooking or a change in aircraft due to scheduled maintenance.
The regulations stipulate that compensation should be between $900 and $2,400, depending on the delay.
Williamson took her complaint to the CTA, which on Aug. 16 announced it was launching an inquiry into “whether the terms of WestJet’s tariff dealing with schedule changes and irregularities are just and reasonable” under the new regulations.
Williamson said the CTA reached out to WestJet on her behalf, and the airline agreed to settle the dispute.
In an email, a spokesperson for WestJet said the company recognized it failed to meet its obligations to Williamson and Fitzpatrick and confirmed the airline reached out to them with an apology and compensation. The spokesperson said WestJet continues to co-operate with the CTA on the matter.
A CTA spokesperson confirmed in an email that the inquiry is ongoing and is separate from the complaint settlement.
Williamson said she is still hoping for more information on why the incident happened in the first place and hopes the inquiry results in positive changes for passengers.
“It’s just unfortunate — and more common than not — that folks have to fight with the airlines to have the airlines properly follow their own rules or legislative obligations and regulations,” she said.
Airline passenger rights advocate Gabor Lukacs agreed in an email, saying that without media attention or a CTA complaint he doesn’t think Williamson would have been fairly compensated.
“It is a very sad affair that one has to go to such a length to get compensation that should be the norm,” he said.
Lukacs thinks the case reinforces that the new regulations — some of which won’t come into effect until the end of 2019 — are “first and foremost broken.”
The Air Passenger Rights organization, headed by Lukacs, expressed concern earlier this year over two parts of the new regulations.
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The first is the length of time passengers can be kept in a plane delayed on the tarmac, which was extended from 90 minutes to more than three hours.
The second is the term “denied boarding,” the definition of which Lukacs said has been made much narrower than before, leading to situations like what happened to Williamson.