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
A Canadian-led study of a new potential antiviral therapy shows a single dose can help cut the risk of hospitalization and death from COVID-19.
Are video games good for kids' brains or bad for them? New research suggests the answer is 'no' to both
A small new study has found that neither the frequency of daily gaming reported by pre-teen children nor the specific video game genres they chose to play were linked with their performance on a standardized cognitive tests.
Canada deployed a disaster assessment team to Turkey on Wednesday in the wake of a devastating earthquake that's killed thousands, as the federal government faced criticism that the window to help with rescue efforts was closing.
A man has been arrested and two children are dead after a driver crashed a city bus into a daycare in Laval, Que. Wednesday morning. The deadly crash sent multiple children to area hospitals and parents scrambling to find their kids shortly after they dropped them off for the day at the Garderie éducative Sainte-Rose, north of Montreal.
Alphabet Inc. lost US$100 billion in market value on Wednesday after its new chatbot shared inaccurate information in a promotional video and a company event failed to dazzle, feeding worries that the Google parent is losing ground to rival Microsoft.
opinion | Before you do your taxes, take note of these tax credits and deductions you may not have known about
Many Canadians are experiencing strains caused by the increased cost of living and inflation. In his exclusive column for CTVNews.ca, contributor Christopher Liew shares some of the top credits and deductions that you may be able to claim on your income tax return to help you save money.
Indigo's payment systems and online store are down after a 'cybersecurity incident,' the company announced on Wednesday evening.
Netflix Canada is rolling out its long-anticipated plans to crack down on password sharing, saying it will begin notifying Canadian users today by email about limitations.
The officer who pulled Tyre Nichols from his car before police fatally beat him never explained why he was being stopped, newly released documents show, and emerging reports from Memphis residents suggest that was common.
Mounties on Vancouver Island say they were in "disbelief" when they saw a senior driving more than 100 km/h through a school zone in Qualicum Beach, B.C.
Residents of Greater Victoria have been contending with frequent recycling pickup delays, and now the Capital Regional District (CRD) is looking at ways to offset the service disruptions.
A popular Tofino, B.C., restaurant that was destroyed by fire shortly before Christmas is poised to open a new location in the comings weeks.
A man has been charged in relation to a May 2022 single-vehicle collision that killed a 24-year-old woman.
Calgary soccer star Sam Adekugbe is working with the Red Cross, urging Canadians to donate to quake relief.Adekugbe plays professionally in Turkiye, for Hatayspor, in the devastated city of Antakya.
Airdrie RCMP are investigating after a pharmacy robbery took place Wednesday over the lunch hour.
A man has been charged with kidnapping and sexually assaulting a girl and Edmonton police believe there may be more victims.
A 33-year-old woman is facing four counts of arson after a series of fires in Fort Saskatchewan.
For the second time in as many days, Fox Run School in Sylvan Lake was evacuated after a bomb threat on Wednesday.
Ontario lawyer facing discipline after filing $229-million lawsuit against sugar baby he was 'obsessed' with
An Ontario lawyer who filed a $229-million lawsuit against his former “sugar baby” for alleged fraud had his case dismissed after the court found he'd become "obsessed" with the young woman when she attempted to end their arrangement.
The man and pregnant woman found dead in a Bowmanville, Ont. home last weekend were married, police say.
It’s been over a year since Faith Emenike filled out an application in hopes that her family would be able to visit her in Canada as she gave birth to her first child—but all she’s heard is radio silence.
Condolences are pouring in on Parliament Hill after a Laval, Que., city bus crashed into a daycare on Wednesday morning, with federal politicians of all stripes expressing their sympathies with the families affected and gratitude to the first responders.
Chateauguay is still digging out from all the recent snow – but the mayor is underwater due to a municipal spat. The South Shore city’s mayor, Eric Allard, called in trucks from the private sector to help after blue-collar workers refused to work evenings and weekends to get the job done.
For the first time with Mayor Scott Gillingham at the helm of Winnipeg City Hall, a new proposed budget has been tabled for 2023.
A plan to transform a former golf course owned by the University of Manitoba into a complete urban community has cleared its first hurdles.
An annual $5 payment to members of seven First Nations has remained the same for more than 150 years, but one man is hoping to change that. Zongidaya Nelson is suing the federal government for 11 billion dollars on the behalf of his Roseau River Anishinabe First Nation, and the six other First Nations in Manitoba that signed Treaty 1 in 1871.
A man accused of killing his wife made his first court appearance on Wednesday.
A Saskatoon couple is left feeling powerless to help their family and friends dig out of the rubble following the two major earthquakes in Turkiye on Monday.
A survey from TD Bank reveals Saskatchewan and Manitoba have the highest number of people in the country who didn’t contribute to their investments last year.
Regina city council voted to remove Ward 6 coun. Dan Leblanc from the board of the Community Safety and Well-being committee.
In a police interview that occurred shortly after the death of a three-month-old Regina baby, the boy's father, Catlin Goodwill, denied wrongdoing. Video of the interview was played during Goodwill's manslaughter trial, bringing many in the courtroom to tears.
A three-year-old boy is hoping he will soon have his favourite toy back at home.
A Texas low will bring a mix of precipitation into the Maritimes Thursday night into Friday morning.
Nova Scotia Health is under the microscope after eight employees were found snooping into medical records. The privacy breaches involve the electronic health records of people associated with the April 2020 mass shooting in Nova Scotia, among others.
Health-care care package: Maritime provinces still digesting details of Ottawa's funding announcement
The number-crunching continues a day after the premiers sat-down with the prime minister to talk about health-care funding.
A special weather statement is in effect for the London, Ont. region and neighbouring counties as heavy rains and strong winds are forecasted to begin overnight Wednesday and into Thursday.
Time and the elements have taken their toll on the Kensington Bridge that carries cars, bikes, and pedestrians eastbound from Riverside Drive to Dundas Place. Built in 1930, the heritage structure carries about 9,500 vehicles each day and serves as a vital ink to the core, according to downtown Coun. David Ferreira.
Former London, Ont. high school teacher Dustin Epp, 48, was supposed to appear for his sentencing hearing Wednesday afternoon, but the matter has been delayed until next week due to health-related concerns and to give Epp more time to prepare his legal defence.
A grieving family in Noelville, Ont., is reeling after a judge dismissed a trial connected to a 2019 workplace fatality involving a close family member.
The wait is over for ticketholders in the latest Canadian Hard of Hearing Association's Ultimate Dream Home Draw as Pure Country Sudbury morning show hosts pulled the names of the prize winners Wednesday afternoon.
In a case that dates to 2007, Wayne Foster, a former police officer in Sudbury, has been charged with one count of sexual assault and one count of sexual exploitation.
'It’s horrific': Community honours Karen Cunningham after Woodstock police call her death suspicious
A memorial has been set up in the area where 30-year-old Karen Cunningham’s body was found, as police in Woodstock continue to investigate her death as “suspicious” in nature.
'I can’t even tell you how devastating it was': Equine herpes kills several horses at Wellington County farm
More than 20 horses are in quarantine and several have died at a farm in Wellington County, after ten were infected with equine herpes last month.
The K-W Titans are preparing to hit the court for another season of hooping it up, and while some players are a slam dunk, others are looking to earn a spot on the team.