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.
Vancouver Top Stories
CTVNews.ca Top Stories
Canada makes amendments to foreign homebuyers ban – here's what they look like
Months after Canada's ban on foreign homebuyers took effect on Jan. 1, the Canada Mortgage and Housing Corporation has made several amendments to the legislation allowing non-Canadians to purchase residential properties in certain circumstances.
'Leave this with me': Alberta premier heard on call with COVID-19 protester
Alberta Premier Danielle Smith, in a leaked cellphone call, commiserated with a COVID-19 protester about his trial while divulging to him there was an internal dispute over how Crown prosecutors were handling COVID-19 cases.
What is the grocery rebate in federal budget 2023? Key questions, answered
To help offset rising living expenses, the Government of Canada has introduced a one-time grocery rebate for low- and modest-income Canadians. Here is what we know about the rebate.
RCMP arrest 5 while executing search warrant at Wet'suwet'en protest camp
RCMP officers executed a search warrant at a protest camp on Wet'suwet'en traditional territory near the under-construction Coastal GasLink pipeline Wednesday.
'Compostable' food packaging may contain hazardous 'forever chemicals': Canadian study
As Canada phases out single-use plastics, more restaurants are opting to use 'compostable' takeout containers. But a new study suggests some of these supposedly eco-friendly containers may pose hazards to our health and the environment.
Could Usain Bolt outrun a 900-pound dinosaur? Physics professor poses the question
A new academic paper pits legendary sprinter Usain Bolt against a 900-pound dinosaur to see who could run a 100-metre distance the fastest.
Recalled in Canada: Change tables over entrapment hazard, hoodies due to risk of choking
Health Canada has issued two recalls, one for change tables over an entrapment hazard and another for bamboo nursing hoodies due to a risk of choking.
Many Canadians like to tell 'white lies' about home-cooked meals: survey
Have you ever had to lie about the quality of a home-cooked meal to protect someone's feelings? According to a new survey by Research Co. you’re not the only one.
Spending to increase economic capacity is fiscally responsible, Freeland says in post-budget defence
Defending her latest federal budget, Deputy Prime Minister and Finance Minister Chrystia Freeland said spending that increases economic capacity is fiscally responsible.
IIO investigating after man driving construction vehicle shot, seriously injured by police in Duncan, B.C.
A man was taken to hospital with serious injuries following a police shooting in Duncan, B.C., on Tuesday evening.
Vancouver Island non-profit calls for more support for women with brain injuries from violent partners
A Vancouver Island non-profit is calling for more support for women who suffer a brain injury at the hands of a violent partner.
Police investigating 'targeted' attempted arson at home in Saanich
Police are investigating what they believe was a targeted arson attack at a home north of Victoria.
‘I started breaking down:’ Friends remember 15-year-old homicide victim
A 15-year-old girl shot to death in the community of Martindale early Tuesday morning, has now been identified by friends and police as Sarah Alexis Jorquera.
Woman in custody, charges pending following Lions Park LRT station stabbing
Calgary police say they've arrested a woman in connection with a stabbing at the Lions Park LRT station that stemmed from a fight between several people.
Lethbridge UCP candidate Torry Tanner's claims against teachers disputed
A United Conservative Party candidate in Lethbridge claims teachers are exposing students to pornography and gender reassignment without parental knowledge.
Online video between Danielle Smith and Artur Pawlowski raises questions over interference
In an online video, Alberta Premier Danielle Smith is heard speaking with outspoken Calgary pastor Artur Pawlowski, creating questions about her influence on Alberta court cases.
Man found dead in SUV, Edmonton homicide detectives on the case
Police are looking for help in the suspicious death of a man found in a vehicle in north Edmonton Wednesday morning.
'Serious labour shortage' holding Alberta's tourism sector back: industry advocates
Alberta's tourism sector has a "serious labour shortage" that can threaten its long-term viability, a new labour study has found.
BREAKING | Man pulled from house fire in Toronto's Junction Triangle dies in hospital
A man is dead after being pulled from a fire at a home in Toronto’s Junction Triangle neighbourhood.
A rare weather phenomenon strikes southern Ontario again
Thundersnow has struck southern Ontario for a second time this month.
Why is there no cell service on the TTC? Riders say it could increase safety
The Toronto Transit Commission signed a deal in 2012 to provide cellular service on the subway network, but over a decade later, few are able to make a call in an emergency—something the TTC board members, riders and parents say has to change in the wake of the death of Gabriel Magalhaes.
Bill 15: Quebec tables legislation to overhaul health system
The CAQ government has unveiled its long-promised plan to improve Quebec's public health network. Tabled at the Quebec legislature Wednesday by Health Minister Christian Dubé, Bill 15 promises a major shakeup.
'I lost a brother': Funeral held for teen who died in Old Montreal fire
Almost two weeks after his death, a funeral was held in Laval Wednesday for a teenager who died in the fire in Old Montreal.
Flooded and fed up: St-Leonard homeowners file class-action suit over heavy rain damages
A group of homeowners in St-Leonard has filed a class-action lawsuit against their borough and the City of Montreal, claiming municipal authorities are to blame for repeated floodings during heavy rain.
Manitobans should prepare for a gas price hike according to an expert
Come the weekend, Manitobans will be paying more for gas and the price could climb even higher in the coming weeks and months according to a gas expert.
Brandon pauses public engagement on 30-year vision over 'inappropriate and unsafe behaviour'
The City of Brandon has paused its public consultation on its 30-year plan for the city due to 'inappropriate and unsafe behaviour' from some residents.
Manitoba family launches lawsuit over COVID-19 vaccination
A Manitoba family has launched a lawsuit alleging their 23-year-old son had a stroke days after receiving a dose of a COVID-19 vaccine, leaving him legally blind.
Saskatoon police release video of 3 people placing 'large container' in dumpster where body was found
Saskatoon Police Service is asking for the public’s help in identifying three individuals they believe are connected to a suspicious death.
Saskatoon murder trial on hold as police investigate new revelations
A Saskatoon murder trial is being adjourned to allow police to follow-up on "significant information" that just came to the Crown prosecutor's attention Wednesday.
Dog that attacked five-year-old Saskatoon boy involved in three other attacks
CTV News has learned a dog that attacked a five-year-old boy last week had been declared dangerous in February 2022, but the city had lost track of the owner a year ago.
City council waiting for next steps in Experience Regina rebrand
The City of Regina is waiting for an update regarding the next steps for the Experience Regina rebrand.
Regina's Dewdney Avenue strip to undergo 2 year renovation project
The Dewdney Avenue strip between Broad Street and Albert Street is about to undergo a major two year renovation project.
Saskatchewan to spend $6 million for some hip and knee surgeries in Calgary
The Saskatchewan government is set to spend up to $6 million to send patients to Calgary for hip and knee surgeries.
N.S. mass shooting inquiry report must deliver 'clear commentary': family lawyer
A lawyer who represents Nova Scotia mass shooting victims' families said in an interview they are hoping "for clear commentary on what things went wrong and what things ought to have been done better or differently."
Cold front to sweep mix of snow, rain across the Maritimes Thursday
A low-pressure system moving north of the St. Lawrence River valley will sweep a cold front across the Maritimes on Thursday.
How Portapique residents past and present are dealing with reminders of the 2020 mass shooting
The eve of the release of the final report from the inquiry into Nova Scotia’s 2020 mass shooting is a reminder for residents of Portapique of their small community’s traumatic past.
Coyote encounter unnerves woman
An evening walk along the trails of Westminster Ponds in southeast London, Ont. turned into a frantic scene for Denise Singh and her two dogs.
Over a dozen dogs 'dumped' across Huron and Perth Counties
More than a dozen dogs were abandoned across Huron and Perth Counties on March 23 and 24, and local dog lovers are furious about it.
2,700 cattle escape $2-million barn fire
Damage is estimated at $2-million after a barn and grass fire in southeast London on Tuesday.
Northern Ont. family ‘ecstatic’ as 25-year-old murder mystery finally solved
Robert Steven Wright was convicted Wednesday of murdering Renee Sweeney, a little more than 25 years after her brutal killing shocked the community.
B.C. man pleads guilty to northern Ont. shooting, Crown drops attempted murder charge
A man who admitted to shooting up a home in Greater Sudbury in 2020 over a drug theft pled guilty Wednesday to reduced charges.
Driver caught travelling 200km/hr on major Ontario highway
A 20-year-old has been charged with careless driving after travelling double the speed limit on a major Ontario highway.
'Fairly emotional for everybody': Teen struck by LRT visits emergency crews who rescued him
Several weeks after a teen was stuck under an LRT train in Kitchener, he’s now up and walking and visited the emergency crews who helped rescue him.
Cambridge municipal election candidate suing city after names left off ballot
A retired political science professor says he was “stunned” by the way the Cambridge municipal election unfolded.
Businesses weigh in on government’s plan to reduce credit card fees
The federal government is touting plans to help small businesses by reducing credit card fees, but some local merchants say while they welcome the measure, the actual impact it will have on their operations will be minimal.