Instead of a one-hour flight, these WestJet passengers rode the bus for eight hours
Gilbert Proulx said he almost couldn’t believe it as he looked at his phone.
He had just landed in Calgary on Sunday afternoon from a flight from Toronto. Proulx, his wife and two sons, 9 and 6, were returning from a trip to the Bahamas.
As the family prepared to exit the plane to make their final connection with Regina, Proulx received a ping from WestJet.
Their flight was canceled due to unscheduled maintenance, the email said. Ground transportation would be provided to bring the passengers home.
“I had to do a double take,” Proulx, a teacher at Regina, said in an interview The home track On Monday.
“I was sitting there, like, is this really happening? You know you pay these airlines good money to get you transportation and I’m sitting there like, that’s the best they can do for us, right now?”
In an emailed statement to CBC Calgary, Denise Kenny, public relations manager at WestJet, said the airline apologizes for disrupting passengers’ travel plans.
“Unfortunately, due to high demand for weekend travel and significant weather events in Vancouver and Vancouver Island, rebooking opportunities have been limited, resulting in increased operational impact and limited aircraft availability,” the statement said.
“In order to best assist affected guests in reaching their destination as quickly as possible, ground transportation has been arranged to provide an immediate travel option for those who could not wait for an alternative flight option.”
For some passengers, the swap meant a one-hour flight became an eight-hour night bus ride.
Eight hour drive
Proulx said that after receiving the news, his wife and children were looking for something to eat – for which the airline had sent vouchers – while he investigated the bus situation. The email instructed passengers to meet at Gate 1 at 4:30 p.m. MT, about half an hour after they landed.
“When I got there, there were already a bunch of passengers standing around,” he said.
“I was really impressed by the general mood of a group of passengers who were told that this was the only way to get home.”
Proulx said on-site staff told him the next available flight to Regina would depart three days later, on March 1.
“You basically said that’s your only option. If you want to go home, you have to get on the bus.”
The group left Calgary around 5 p.m. MT, Proulx said. They took a 10-minute break at Medicine Hat and arrived in Regina around 1 a.m.
“Part of me is glad I came home,” he said. “But I have such a hard time imagining that that was her answer. We will put everyone on a bus.”
HEAR | Gilbert Proulx describes his travel experience on Sunday:
Chris Henderson, a Regina musician, received the same email notifying him of the canceled flight after landing in Calgary from Grande Prairie, Alta. He had planned to take a connection home from there.
Instead of boarding the bus, he went to the customer service desk in hopes of catching another flight.
Traveling alone, he said he could book the only available seat on a WestJet flight to Regina Monday morning. He said he will try to get a refund for his hotel stay in Calgary.
“I know there were a lot of other people looking for alternatives because they were rebooked to fly on Wednesday or Thursday,” he said.
“It was just a mess … I’ve never been offered a bus ride by an airline before.”
Proulx said he will be contacting WestJet to try and get a full refund for his family’s trip.
“It wasn’t what we paid for,” he said. “I’ll do what I can to make sure we’re adequately compensated, I mean, which I think is a really unacceptable thing for an airline to do.”
He said the airline might have helped ease some frustrations if it had communicated better with passengers throughout the evening.
“I always like to give people the benefit of the doubt, but I’m going to have a hard time booking another flight with WestJet.”
The lack of available seats comes after Air Canada suspended service between Calgary and Regina and Calgary and Saskatoon, leaving Prairie travelers dependent on WestJet.
However, WestJet said last month that it would increase service between Alberta’s largest city and Saskatchewan starting February 16 with another daily flight between Calgary and Regina, making up to seven flights per day.
It also said it would add three more daily flights between Calgary and Saskatoon, totaling up to nine direct flights per day.