Passengers of a cancelled flight out of Kelowna ― some of whom were told they would have to wait 11 days to get home ― could end up with no compensation under Canada’s new air passenger rules, a consumer advocate says.
Ultra-low-cost airline Swoop, which is owned by WestJet, cancelled a Kelowna-to-Winnipeg flight Monday, Aug. 26 after the crew discovered damage to the aircraft.
According to news reports, the airline initially said it would arrange for a charter aircraft to carry the affected passengers to Winnipeg, but then informed passengers that they would be booked on future Swoop flights, some as late as Sept. 2, Sept. 4 and Sept. 6 ― a full 11 days after the originally scheduled flight.
Watch: The many ways Canada’s airline shakeup could shaft travelers. Story continues below.
Canada’s new air passenger regulations lay out how much compensation passengers are entitled to in case of a cancelled flight, but that part of the regulations doesn’t come into effect until December of this year.
And even when it does, airlines will be exempt from compensating passengers in cases of urgent repairs, which appears to be the case with the Kelowna flight, said air passenger rights advocate Gabor Lukacs.
“If the new rules were in force now, Swoop would not have to pay monetary compensation to passengers, because they would argue that it is a maintenance issue,” Lukacs said in an email to HuffPost Canada.
Swoop changes tune on reimbursement
Some passengers told media that Swoop said it would not compensate them if they paid for their own transportation home. But amid growing media attention, and a growing backlog of flights, the airline offered to cover passengers’ costs.
“Passengers are welcome to make their own reasonable travel arrangements and submit expenses to Swoop for reimbursement,” the airline said in a statement emailed to HuffPost Canada.
“The volume of calls and lengthy wait times may present challenges to passengers waiting for the carrier to make arrangements.”
The plane’s removal from the schedule has backed up flights on Swoop’s network, prompting the airline to cancel six additional flights. The flights affected service out of Abbotsford, B.C., Edmonton, Hamilton, Ont., Kelowna, Las Vegas, Orlando and Winnipeg, CBC News reported.
The rules also require large carriers to book passengers on other flights if they can’t get their customers to the destination, but that doesn’t apply to “small carriers.”
“If Swoop is deemed a ‘small’ airline, then the new rules clearly reduce the rights of passengers compared to what is currently in Swoop’s (own regulations),” Lukacs added.
Swoop says the investigation into what caused the damage to the Boeing 737-800 in question is ongoing. The airliner is expected to return to service next week, Swoop president Steven Greenway told the CBC.