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Was your WestJet flight cancelled this weekend? Here’s what you need to know

Roughly 33,000 travellers have been impacted by the unexpected news on Saturday morning that WestJet had cancelled a slew of flights after mechanics announced a surprise strike.

Here’s what you need to know about how to get moving and/or compensated if you’re among the affected travellers.

What are the rules in a situation like this?

Airlines have to comply with Canada’s Air Passenger Protection Regulations (APPR), which give air passengers using Canadian airlines certain rights by laying out the minimum requirements companies must follow for air travel.

The regulations also detail the standards for communication with passengers, and for compensation when flights are delayed or cancelled, or when your baggage is lost. The Canadian Transportation Agency oversees the APPR. 

According to the regulations, affected passengers can expect an update every 30 minutes until they have a new departure time or itinerary.

Can I still get where I’m trying to go?

An airline must offer passengers a choice between helping you continue to your destination or returning to your point of origin with a refund, according to Air Passenger Rights, an independent, non-profit advocacy group.

WestJet can rebook you on another of its flights or that of a partner airline within 48 hours of your original departure time, said Gabor Lukacs, president of the group.

“But if it cannot, then WestJet will have to take out its corporate credit card and buy passengers tickets on flights of Air Canada or any other competitor — that’s the law,” he told CBC News Network on Saturday morning. 

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Sarah Lacombe, who was scheduled to depart Calgary for her honeymoon, says she hopes WestJet flights get back on schedule after a surprise strike by unionized airline mechanics led to the cancellation of more than 200 flights on Saturday.

The APPR say you can even look at flights leaving from other airports within a “reasonable distance” and expect WestJet to help you get to that point of departure.

If the only seats available are in a higher class of service than you originally booked — such as first or business class — the airline must book you on them without asking you to pay the difference, according to the APPR.

If the opposite is true — you booked a higher class of service and can now only fly economy — then the airline must refund you the difference.

Can I take matters into my own hands?

In a statement posted to its website on Friday, WestJet says there are “limited re-accommodation options available,” suggesting it would be difficult for some people to make alternate plans to get where they’re going.

On Saturday, the airline cancelled 235 flights and said another 150 wouldn’t proceed if a solution to the dispute isn’t reached by early Saturday afternoon.

The wing and front portion of a passenger plane with the name WesJet is seen outside of a hangar with the WestJet name as well.
WestJet cancelled a slew of flights over the Canada Day long weekend after a surprise mechanics’ strike, leaving thousands of passengers in limbo. (Jeff McIntosh/The Canadian Press)

If you run into trouble with WestJet’s “re-accommodation options,” you could rebook flights yourself and pursue compensation later, Lukacs said.

“If you do want to fly, you do not utter the word ‘refund,'” Lukacs  said. “You are not seeking a refund. You are seeking a rebooking. If you are seeking a refund, WestJet will just refund you and wash its hands from your expenses down the line.”

He recommends keeping a careful record of your conversations with the airline — even by going so far as to record your conversations — and keeping track of all the expenses you incur.

Small claims court is an option, he added.

What if I want a refund?

The simple answer? You are entitled to get your money back.

“Money back is always an option,” Lukacs said. “If you didn’t get a flight you paid for, the airline has to give you back your money. That’s a no-brainer.”

The regulations also say that if you’re not at your point of origin when you ask for a refund, the airline must also fly you back home.

But asking for a refund means you might be leaving some money on the table in the long run, Lukacs warned.

Under the regulations, you must receive your money back within 30 days if you go this route.

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