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Two years after the pandemic ruined their travel plans, several frustrated WestJet customers say they’re still waiting for refunds — or confirmation they even qualify for one — after the airline cancelled their flights or vacation packages in 2020.
The customers complained of difficulties trying to communicate with WestJet about their cases and suggested the airline was trying to make it hard for them to collect their cash.
“I think they’re just trying to hang on to our money,” said Sue Andrews of Mississauga, Ont.
Andrews and her husband, Jim Scott, paid $7,031 for a vacation package for themselves and two family members to Cancun, departing in April 2020. Due to the pandemic, WestJet cancelled the trip and gave the couple a travel credit.
They wanted a refund instead and have been trying to collect it for almost two years.
“We feel completely ripped off,” said Andrews. “They don’t care about us.”
Effective Monday, November 2, we will begin to provide refunds to guests whose flights were cancelled by WestJet as a result of COVID-19. Learn more – <a href=”https://t.co/PSV4bxcYn0″>https://t.co/PSV4bxcYn0</a> <a href=”https://t.co/97939lpSlD”>pic.twitter.com/97939lpSlD</a>
When the pandemic was declared in March 2020, WestJet suspended all international flights and provided affected customers with credit for a future trip. Following public outcry, the airline changed its tune in October 2020, announcing it would offer customers refunds for flights the airline had cancelled.
“We are an airline that has built its reputation on putting people first,” said then-CEO Ed Sims in a statement.
In July 2021, the airline extended the refund offer to people whose vacation packages had been cancelled.
WestJet apologizes for long delays
Andrews and her husband initially applied for a refund in June 2020, but it was rejected. They reapplied in November 2021.
Andrews said the couple has reached out to WestJet numerous times, and when they finally made contact with the company on social media, they were only told that their application is in the queue and has yet to be reviewed. WestJet told CBC News this week that’s still the case.
“I’ve been in the customer service industry my whole life and have never seen anything like this,” said Andrews, a semi-retired insurance agent.
In an email to CBC News, WestJet acknowledged it has “a backlog of refund requests,” and blamed the pandemic and a busy holiday travel season. It offered an apology to customers who have experienced long delays.
“We recognize the frustration being felt by some of our guests as we work to expedite outstanding refund requests,” said Madison Kruger, a WestJet spokesperson.
Airline ‘just playing games,’ says waiting customer
There’s no question Julie Jalbert of Minnedosa, Man., is entitled to a refund for a cancelled round-trip flight from Winnipeg to St. Maarten that was supposed to depart in October 2020.
She initially received a travel voucher for the $769 she paid for the flight. Instead, Jalbert applied for a refund in November 2020, and one year later WestJet confirmed by email that she would be reimbursed.
But in order to claim her cash, Jalbert was told she would have to call WestJet customer service. She said she tried to do so numerous times, but her call always got disconnected, sometimes after she had waited on hold for hours.
“I just believe they are trying to take advantage of the client and hoping that we just give up because this is too complicated,” said Jalbert, who eventually reached out to CBC News for help.
WestJet told CBC News it has prioritized the urgent hiring of contact centre agents and that call wait times have “drastically improved.”
The airline also asked for Jalbert’s phone number and said it would “contact her urgently.”
On Tuesday morning, CBC provided WestJet with the number. By Friday afternoon, Jalbert said she was still waiting to hear from the airline.
“To me, they’re just playing games.”
Refund requests in holding pattern
WestJet customer Neil Tucker of Edmonton is also in a holding pattern.
The airline cancelled a $4,027 vacation package from Edmonton to Cancun that Tucker booked for his family. It was supposed to depart on March 24, 2020.
In October 2021, after learning that WestJet was offering refunds for cancelled flights, Tucker applied for one and is still waiting for his cash.
“Why is it taking so long?” he asked. “I think they want me to use their credits that they offered.”
WestJet told CBC News on Monday that it appears Tucker’s refund request is missing some details and suggested he should resubmit his request form.
When CBC informed Tucker of this information, he was surprised and called the situation “absolutely ridiculous.”
“What more information do they need from me? They have my contact information.”
Tucker said he contacted WestJet on Tuesday and waited four hours on hold before he was able to speak with a customer service agent. He said the agent told him his form had no missing information and that his case has yet to be reviewed due to a backlog.
“I’m sick of the time I’m spending without compensation trying to get this sorted out,” said a frustrated Tucker.
“I really just want this to come to an end.”
Daniel Tsai, a consumer advocate and Toronto-based business lawyer, said the long delays are unacceptable.
He said customers can pursue other options to try to get a refund such as filing a complaint with the Canadian Transportation Agency, disputing the charge with their credit card company or disputing the charge under consumer protection legislation in their province.
But Tsai said those options may also involve a lengthy or cumbersome process, or, in the case of credit card disputes, customers typically face a strict time limit for filing a claim.
Customers should be able to “get their money back for flights that never happened … without making them go through onerous procedures,” said Tsai.