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WestJet flight cancellations: BC couple won’t get $2,000 compensation for strike-related disruptions

WestJet flight cancellations: BC couple won’t get ,000 compensation for strike-related disruptions
WestJet flight cancellations: BC couple won’t get ,000 compensation for strike-related disruptions

Two travellers whose plans were disrupted by a cancelled WestJet flight due to a strike are entitled to reimbursement for their hotel and meal costs, but no additional compensation, a British Columbia district court has ruled.

Anne and Robert Boyd told the Civil Resolution Tribunal that they had planned to travel to Italy in the spring of 2023. They were due to fly from Kelowna on May 18 and arrive in Rome on May 19. However, they ended up arriving at their destination more than 24 hours later than expected.

On the day of their departure, WestJet cancelled more than 100 flights due to a labor dispute with pilots’ unions, including the Boyds’ connecting flight from Calgary.

“The parties disagree as to whether this cancellation was within WestJet’s control or not,” tribunal member Amanda Binner wrote in her July 5 decision.

The Boyds flew from Kelowna to Calgary on May 18, but ended up staying overnight before catching a rebooked connecting flight. They finally arrived in Italy on May 20.

The frustrated travelers demanded $2,000 in damages, plus $277 in reimbursement for a hotel stay and a meal they paid for during the delay.

Strike averted, cancellations not

A few days before the Boyds’ trip began, the Air Line Pilots Association issued a 72-hour strike notice, giving WestJet pilots permission to strike in the early morning hours of May 19.

The airline responded by issuing a lockout notice, which went into effect at the same time as the strike.

Ultimately, the two sides reached a tentative agreement just hours before the deadline, averting both the strike and the lockout. The Boyds argued that this made the cancellation of their flight “within the control of the airline,” according to Canadian regulations protecting air passengers.

The APPR outlines the rights of travelers and the liabilities of airlines for everything from delayed flights to lost luggage.

“If the cancellation was within WestJet’s control, the parties agree that the Boyds would generally be entitled to compensation under Section 19 of the (APPR),” Binner wrote.

“If the flight cancellation was not within WestJet’s control, then Article 10 of the APPR requires the airline to rebook the Boyds within 48 hours, but no compensation is due.”

What is meant by a ‘labor disruption’?

Under the APPR, cancellations resulting from a “labor disruption within the airline” are not considered within an airline’s control — but the Boyds said that exception shouldn’t apply in their case because the strike never actually happened and because WestJet opted to issue its own lockout notice.

However, WestJet argued that this was too narrow an interpretation and the court agreed.

Binner cited a statement from the Canadian Transportation Agency – which created the APPR – explaining that the purpose of the labor disruption exception was to avoid “impairing the collective bargaining process.”

“So, does a 72-hour strike notice qualify as a ‘labor disruption’? I think it does. With or without the lockout notice, WestJet had no control over the strike,” Binner wrote. “I also find that the reference to ‘negotiation process’ in the CTA statement supports that ‘labor disruption’ includes the time after a strike notice is issued.”

Refund approved

As for whether WestJet must reimburse the Boyds for their hotel and meal expenses, Binner ruled that WestJet’s liability depends on whether the airline did everything it could to avoid unnecessary delays.

Binner summarized the Montreal Convention — an international treaty that also addresses airline liability — writing that airlines are not liable for delay-related damages if they can prove that they and their agents “took all measures that could reasonably be required to avoid the damage or that it was impossible to take such measures.”

In this case, WestJet did not argue that there were no prior flights available that would have allowed the Boyds to avoid a hotel stay, nor did WestJet dispute the Boyds’ claim for $277 in compensation at all.

Binner ordered the airline to pay the travelers a total of $355, including $78 in pre-judgment court costs and interest.