A group of friends from Winnipeg who spent the weekend at a bachelorette celebration in Kelowna say a cancelled flight left them stranded — with the airline offering return flights more than a week later.
Six women, including Anika Scheurer, booked their flights from Winnipeg with Swoop, an ultra-low fare airline owned by WestJet.
“It was mainly price and the dates,” Scheurer, 24, said in explaining why she chose Swoop, adding that the round-trip ticket was about half the price offered by other airlines.
But as the group prepared to board a plane home Monday, a mechanical problem caused a delay. Hours later, the delay turned into a cancellation.
That’s when Scheurer says the airline “turned a celebratory weekend into a nightmare.”
And according to Gabor Lukacs, founder of the non-profit organization Air Passenger Rights, that’s why travellers need to know what they’re entitled to when trip plans go sideways.
“This is an egregious case. Offering someone transportation the next week is unreasonable and unjustifiable,” said Lukacs.
Scheurer said the airline gave her and the other passengers a hotel voucher for the night and said $30 would be reimbursed for meals. They were told Swoop would find them flights or charter a plane within 48 hours.
But when she got an email from the airline late Monday night, she learned the flight home was scheduled an entire week later, Sept. 2. She said the group of six women was split up on various flights, with some scheduled to leave even later.
Distress and confusion ensued, as the women considered the costs of an unexpected few days away from home.
“We had someone who was doing pet boarding, there was child care cost, wages lost,” said Scheurer, adding that some of the women would be drawing from next year’s vacation time.
Scheurer called the number provided, and discovered Swoop’s call centre is only open from 8 a.m. to 6 p.m. MST on weekdays.
The group got in touch with WestJet and paid for flights home with that airline on Tuesday.
‘It’s Swoop’s problem’
According to Lukacs, the airline has a duty to find reasonable alternatives for its passengers — if a flight is cancelled and it can’t be blamed on an act of God — and that includes arranging flights on other airlines if necessary.
“It’s not the passenger’s problem or concern how Swoop deals with it, it’s Swoop’s problem,” he said.
Lukacs said any costs incurred due to the delays, including meals, accommodation, lost wages, and even child care should be demanded from the company in writing. If it’s not reimbursed within about a week, he said passengers should take the airline to small claims court, even demanding $1,000 in punitive damages to send a message when appropriate.
Shortly after getting back to Winnipeg on Tuesday, Scheurer got a call from Swoop staff informing her that the WestJet flight home would be reimbursed.
But for the bachelorette party, the support from Swoop throughout the ordeal was meagre at best, she said.
“The process was just really scattered — there was no clear information,” said Scheurer, who said staff tended to be kind once she got through to them.
‘We apologize for the inconvenience’
She said the person who followed up on Tuesday was very apologetic.
A Swoop spokesperson declined an interview request from CBC News, but sent an emailed statement.
“We apologize for the inconvenience to our impacted travellers. Swoop has all our available resources working to get our travellers to their destinations as quickly and safely as possible,” it read.
Four hours later the spokesperson sent another statement adding the company would reimburse passengers for costs associated with the cancelled flight.