Passengers stuck on sweltering plane in Jamaica denied compensation by WestJet
WestJet has declined to provide compensation to passengers who were stuck in a sweltering airplane cabin in Jamaica last month, claiming the flight was cancelled because of "a security-related incident" outside the airline's control.
That's a marked departure from what WestJet initially told CTV News Vancouver about the cancellation, when it blamed the lack of air conditioning in the cabin on a "mechanical issue" and said the flight was offloaded because of how long it was taking to fix.
The airline now says the situation evolved over time, and that security was the main reason the flight was cancelled. Still, an air passenger rights expert believes WestJet should be on the hook for thousands of dollars in compensation.
On Nov. 3, WestJet flight WS2703 from Montego Bay to Toronto was cancelled. Boarding had been completed, but the air conditioning in the cabin wasn't turning on.
Grace Hill was one of the people on board. She was on her way back to Vancouver after attending her mother's destination wedding.
Last month, Hill told CTV News passengers "band(ed) together" to demand the plane return to the gate, because they were concerned the onboard temperature was getting dangerously high.
Hill alleges that the flight crew initially told passengers returning to the gate would mean further delays, and was reluctant to do so.
"We're like, 'We don't care,'" Hill recalled. "We need to save these people's lives. There's seniors fainting, there's children drenched in sweat."
Lisa Lossner was also on the plane, hoping to get back to Toronto after a vacation with a friend. On Tuesday, she explained that she got up and made her way to the back of the plane because she was feeling "really, really faint" in the heat.
"I wish I had a thermostat (to tell how hot it was)," she said. "It was horrible. Absolutely horrible."
Hill estimated that passengers were stuck on the plane for 90 minutes, while Lossner put it at two hours. Both women are part of a WhatsApp group of passengers from the flight, who have been exchanging information and consoling each other since the experience.
WHAT WAS THE SECURITY ISSUE?
When CTV News first asked WestJet about the incident, the airline made no mention of a security concern.
"WestJet flight WS2703 on Nov. 3 experienced a mechanical issue that resulted in the aircraft requiring an air start to assist in cooling the cabin prior to departure," the airline said in a statement last month.
"Unfortunately, due to high temperatures and the timing involved in completing the required maintenance, the decision was made to offload the plane and the flight was subsequently cancelled. Safety is our top priority and we sincerely apologize to our guests for the disruption and any inconvenience this may have caused."
That explanation roughly matches what Hill and Lossner recall being told as the incident was unfolding, though both women criticized the flight crew for what they saw as insufficient communication about the situation.
After making it back to Canada, both Hill and Lossner contacted WestJet to request compensation under Canada's Air Passenger Protection Regulations.
According to those rules, passengers who experience a delay of more than nine hours with a major airline for a reason within that airline's control are entitled to $1,000 in compensation, in addition to the basic standards of treatment that apply during delays.
This monetary award is only available if the delay was within the airline's control, however. WestJet's responses to both women – and to other people in the WhatsApp group – assert that the delay was not in its control.
"Upon review of your reservation, we are unable to approve your claim for compensation as the most significant reason for your flight interruption was due to a security-related incident," the airline said in responses to Hill and Lossner.
Lossner said she was confused by this response, and sought clarification from the airline in a follow-up email.
"I responded and said, 'That doesn't make any sense. Can you explain this to me?'" she said. "They wrote back and said, 'We've re-evaluated, and our original decision stands.' And that's pretty much where I ended it. There's no point, you know, flogging a dead horse."
When asked for an explanation, WestJet provided the following response, which still did not elaborate on the nature of the security incident:
"While in our original correspondence, we described and explained the initial issue that resulted in the high temperature and circumstance onboard, that does not always correlate to the reason which is coded to a cancellation for the purposes of APPR, as the reasons for a disruption can, and often will, evolve given the complex nature of any disruption."
After a follow-up inquiry, the airline provided a little bit more information. Though the crew had "the desire to operate with a delay," WestJet said, the "compounding and complex escalation of the incident" made this impossible.
"The crew made the difficult decision to cancel the flight in its entirety for the security and the overall safety of all guests and crew out of concern for unruly behaviour," the company said.
When Hill heard this explanation, she was incredulous.
"It doesn't make sense," she said. "Why aren't they just telling us, like, 'You guys were unruly'? You know, it seems like they know that they're wrong, so they don't want to tell us."
"I don't understand how you can say that's security related when people were just looking out for each other," Lossner said. "You can't keep a dog in a hot car. You can get, you know, charged for something like that. But it's OK to keep 170 people for, I'm going to say almost two hours, in a plane, and not expect them to get frustrated or vocal? I just can't wrap my head around that."
PASSENGER RIGHTS EXPERT WEIGHS IN
Air passenger rights expert Gábor Lukács told CTV News it's in WestJet's interest to claim that the incident in Montego Bay was outside its control, even though – in his opinion – this is a case where the airline was clearly at fault.
"What I understand happened is that there was some issue with the temperature in the cabin and people got upset about it because of how it was mishandled by the airline," Lukács said.
Even if the initial mechanical issue was outside WestJet's control, Lukács said, the security concern about "unruly behaviour" suggests that the flight crew failed to properly de-escalate the situation. He noted that flight attendants are typically trained in conflict de-escalation.
"How you interact with passengers, how you handle the conflict, that is really a question of training and something that the airline has full control over," he said.
Lukács, who holds a PhD, is the president of Air Passenger Rights, a non-profit organization he founded to educate Canadian air travellers about their rights and advocate for better protection of those rights.
His advice to the members of the WhatsApp group who bonded over their experience trying to leave Jamaica is to take WestJet to small claims court or, in British Columbia, the Civil Resolution Tribunal.
"In those settings, the airline would have to present evidence and an impartial judge will have to look at the facts and decide whether compensation is or isn't owed," Lukács said.
He also lamented that the APPR system, as it's currently set up, makes small claims courts the best option for passengers seeking compensation.
Lukács said it's economically advantageous for airlines to claim delays and cancellations are out of their control, even if they aren't, because the fines levied against airlines by the Canadian Transportation Agency are often lower than the compensation they would've had to pay in the first place.
"It is far more profitable for an airline to break the law and not pay passengers compensation owed than to actually be a law-abiding corporate citizen," he said.
Lossner said she's planning to file a complaint to the CTA about her experience, but hasn't done so yet. She said she's not sure it's worth the time or effort to pursue a court case against WestJet over this issue.
Hill said some in the WhatsApp group have discussed launching a group legal proceeding, but there are no concrete plans yet.
She described the push for compensation as "a big, scary process" that she wishes the airline would've made easier.
"It's just really disappointing that they couldn't just offer their customers what we're owed instead of having to kind of cut corners and try to screw us over," Hill said.
CTVNews.ca Top Stories
The federal Liberal government is joining the Opposition Conservatives in no longer allowing its members of Parliament to expense taxpayers for home internet services.
On Feb. 27, 2022, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy said his country needed fighters, and foreigners were welcome to join the front line in the defence against Russian aggression. Some Canadians were among the first to answer the call.
Canada is sending four combat-ready battle tanks to Ukraine and will be deploying 'a number' of Canadian Armed Forces members to train Ukrainian soldiers on how to operate them.
For some people, relaxation looks like settling down with a nice glass of wine and the most graphic, disturbing tale of murder imaginable.
Following the deaths of more than 300 children from contaminated cough syrups in several countries, Health Canada says it's been more than a decade since similar cases were identified here.
Rent prices in Canada grew at a record pace last year as the country saw the lowest vacancy rate since 2001, the Canada Mortgage and Housing Corp. said.
The independent body that oversees the safety of technical systems and equipment in British Columbia has found a deadly ammonia leak near Kamloops last May was a tragedy that took years to unfold.
An asteroid the size of a delivery truck will whip past Earth on Thursday night, one of the closest such encounters ever recorded.
Amsterdam has shared a time-lapse video of the construction of its brand-new underwater bike-parking facility.
Former Victoria mayor Lisa Helps will help advise B.C. Premier David Eby on housing solutions, the province announced Thursday.
B.C.'s earthquake early warning (EEW) system is in the spotlight once again as the anniversary of a massive 9.0-maginutde megathrust earthquake arrives.
Victoria police say a suspect has been arrested after a suspicious fire significantly damaged a home near the border of Oak Bay, B.C.
Calgary police have arrested one suspect and are still looking for another in connection to a December incident in a southwest parking lot that left the victim severely injured.
Whether you're interested in buying, renting or repairing, automotive experts are warning Canadians entering the vehicle market to bring extra money -- and patience.
Alberta Justice Minister Tyler Shandro says he felt sadness and disappointment when he discovered someone he considered to be a friend had posted a social media post that targeted him and his wife.
A 50-year-old teacher in Edson, Alta., who was charged with sex offences against a child in November is facing accusations that he sexually assaulted three additional people.
'Majority of people will still see an increase': Experts say Alberta auto rate freeze won't provide financial relief
The Alberta government says it is pausing private passenger vehicle insurance rate increases through the end of 2023 after hearing concerns from drivers about affordability, but experts say most drivers will still see a rate increase.
The provincial government has unveiled its plan to bring more physicians to areas that are currently underserved, but some doctors aren't convinced the strategy will address the real problem.
The Toronto police will be rolling out an increased presence across the TTC following a rash of violent, and sometimes random, incidents on the city’s transit system.
New video footage obtained by CP24 appears to show the events leading up to what the TTC has described as a ‘despicable swarming’ attack on two of its employees in Scarborough.
A Vaughan, Ont. man has been charged, and a warrant has been issued for a Brampton woman, after two people allegedly sold $500,000 worth of fraudulently issued plane tickets.
A commemoration to mark the sixth anniversary of Quebec's mosque shooting will be held for the first time inside the prayer room where six men were killed.
A 28-year-old man has been charged with second-degree murder in the death of a female relative Wednesday morning in Montreal's Centre-Sud neighbourhood.
Montreal Mayor Valerie Plante wants a review of an old bylaw that has prevented some residents in an east-end neighbourhood from parking their cars in their own driveways.
The Manitoba government is issuing a second round of cheques to help people deal with inflation in a move that critics say has more to do with boosting the governing Progressive Conservatives' chances in the next election.
An expert in policing thinks the Winnipeg Police Service (WPS) should use its cadets should be used to keep transit routes safe, but the service says patrolling buses would be too dangerous for cadets.
Winnipeg police are investigating the city's second homicide of the year.
A Saskatchewan mother says her 13-year-old daughter is being shamed for her past mental health challenges.
Freezing rain on Thursday morning has contributed to dangerous driving conditions in and around Saskatoon.
More than 70 cats found by the Saskatoon Fire Department from a single apartment will have to be put down, Animal Protection Services of Saskatchewan (APSS) says.
Rising rent costs and limited options are making it challenging for Regina renters to find the right place to settle into.
A Regina police officer said he caught 11 drivers on mobile devices in three shifts.
'We're in this together': Sask. woman spreading joy to other cancer warriors through crocheted keychains
A Saskatchewan woman is focusing on bringing happiness to other people who are battling cancer as she fights the disease herself.
A soggy winter storm made its way to the Maritimes Thursday morning, with Environment Canada issuing a combination of rain, snow and wind warnings for the region.
Here is a list of school closures and cancellations for Thursday, Jan. 26, 2023.
Nova Scotia's weekly COVID-19 update shows a decrease in active hospitalizations but an increase in new cases.
London Transit riders will soon be able to bring their pets with them on the bus. At its meeting Wednesday night, the London Transit Commission endorsed a report to allow small domestic animals in carriers on buses.
It may be green in appearance but it isn’t envy that gives this comet its unique colour.
Western University celebrated the completion of the first phase of the D.B. Weldon Library revitalization project on Thursday.
A 36-year-old Sault Ste. Marie woman was killed after being hit by a vehicle on Highway 17 east of Bruce Mines last week, police say.
The body of a 29-year-old Sudbury nurse was recovered Wednesday night from a lake near Parry Sound after her snowmobile went through the ice, police say.
Anyone who received a single-use needle from Réseau ACCESS Network in Sudbury in the last several months is at risk of serious infection, the group announced Thursday.
Two people are facing charges after a police officer was allegedly assaulted in Stratford.
The opening date for the Region of Waterloo’s hybrid shelter has been pushed back, with design delays being blamed.
Waterloo regional police say officers seized 29 firearms after executing a search warrant at a residence in Wellesley Township.