If your flight is grounded by a WestJet pilots' strike, you might be better off if you're flying outside Canada than in, an airline passenger advocate warns.
The airline's pilots — represented by the Air Line Pilots Association — voted 91 per cent in favour of a strike earlier this month and could have walked off the job last Saturday. Their union said it would wait until after the May long weekend and for now, both sides say they remain in negotiations hoping to reach a deal.
If there is a strike, the airline has promised to refund tickets of any flights cancelled as a result.
However, airline passenger advocate Gabor Lukacs says WestJet's obligations to its customers go further than that, depending on the travel circumstances.
"The rights of passengers heavily depends on where they are flying to and from," he said.
According to a post about the looming strike on his website Air Passenger Rights, Lukacs says WestJet has several obligations in cases of travel with international itineraries.
If your flight is leaving from the EU or EEA
For flights cancelled because of a strike that were booked to leave from the European Union or the European Economic Area to Canada, he says WestJet is obligated under a European Parliament statute to:
- Give cash compensation of 600 EUR (or 300 EUR if the passenger is delayed by less than four hours).
- Offer transportation onward or to the passenger's point of origin.
- Refund the airfare if the passenger wants to return to their point of origin.
- Provide care such as meals, accommodation, ground transport and free calls and emails.
If your flight has an international segment
For flights that include an international segment (e.g., New York to Calgary), Lukacs says the airline is obligated under the Montreal Convention to:
- Reimburse reasonable expenses for meals, ground transport, accommodations and communication.
- Compensate for lost wages.
- Pay the cost of a flight on another carrier if the airline is unable to arrange a new flight within a reasonable amount of time.
Lukacs says the source of passenger rights here is part of the Montreal Convention, which says the airline can avoid liability for delays only if the airline proves that the airline, the airline's agents and the airline's servants have taken all reasonable measures to prevent the delay or that there were no such measures available.
Nevertheless, WestJet may dig in its heels and refuse to pay unless and until passengers take them to court.
If your flight is entirely domestic
"The worst situation for passengers is if they fly entirely within Canada, because there, only WestJet's rules apply," Lukacs said, noting that the airline defines strikes as a "force majeure" that relieves the company from having to provide any wider compensation to inconvenienced travellers.
- For flights strictly within Canada, WestJet is obligated to provide passengers a choice between rebooking flights at a later date, free of charge, or providing a full refund.
Better protections needed, Lukacs says
Lukacs says Canada's current regulations don't put enough onus on airlines to compensate domestic passengers.
"This should be a private matter between WestJet and its pilots. And passengers should not have to bear any of that financial burden, in my opinion."
The biggest sticking point in negotiations is whether pilots for WestJet's new discount airline, Swoop, will be part of the union or not. Swoop begins flying on June 20 and is designed to be an ultra low-cost carrier. WestJet has been looking outside of Canada for Swoop pilots.
Both sides say they remain committed to negotiating a deal.
Flight Centre Travel Group vice-president of communications Allison Wallace says she expects WestJet will be flexible with its rebooking and cancellation policies in the event of a strike.
"This may involve them waiving cancellation fees for those whose flights are directly affected, or waiving change fees for those on affected flights to allow them to travel at an unaffected date or time," she said in an email to CBC News.
"We have seen this very recently with industrial action taken by Air France over the past few weeks, and with Lufthansa last year as well."
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