March 20, 2023

WestJet outage troubles Saskatoon residents

Hilary Kennedy should not step over snow on her night walks.

Kennedy is one of thousands of people across the country affected by the recent WestJet grounding that stranded travelers near and far.

Instead of waking up on his Royal Caribbean cruise off the west coast of Mexico, Kennedy woke up to the effects of another blizzard after his flight was canceled just hours before it was scheduled to depart.

“I’m out of money and I’m on vacation. I went for a walk yesterday in my park along the white, snowy river and it was pretty depressing,” Kennedy said.

“I’m still pretty worried about what I’ve lost and what I should do right now.”

Kennedy and her husband were scheduled to leave Saskatoon for Toronto on Sunday morning and eventually land in Fort Lauderdale, Florida, the cruise’s departure point.

While sleeping, Kennedy received an email at 11:30 p.m. saying “something happened” that might affect his flight, then another email arrived at 3:30 a.m. saying his flight was canceled altogether.

“I was on the phone with them at 3:45 and I was on hold for nine and a half hours,” he said. “I actually went to the airport at 6:30 and was there for a couple of hours.”

WestJet said in an emailed statement that more than 220 flights were canceled due to a “cooling issue” at the company’s data center, which caused a service outage before the network restarted late Saturday night.

After spending most of the day on hold with customer service representatives, Kennedy managed to get a flight to Fort Lauderdale for Wednesday, two days after the ship’s trip, leaving the couple with nearly $1,600.

“I woke up and just started feeling sorry for myself and realized, ‘My boat leaves in 12 hours and I’m not going to be there,'” she said. “I was thinking of driving there and I still didn’t make it in time.”

Sheryn Peterson and her husband Rod have been stuck in Victoria, BC since Sunday when their flight to Saskatoon was canceled. While the customer service reps have been helpful, getting a straight answer or honest explanation has been exhausting.

“The processes need to be fixed,” Peterson said. “And I think they should just shut down until they figure it out.”

Peterson said he ended up in a virtual line for a WestJet employee to call him back until he found out there were more than 700 people in line and 300 were scheduled to be called.

“It’s a dumpster fire,” he said.

According to Gabor Lukacs, Director of Air Passenger Rights, every passenger affected by the outage must be compensated. For years, he has been barking at Canadian airlines to avoid responsibility.

“Just because your IT system fails or doesn’t work the way it should, that’s your problem,” Lukacs told CTV News over the weekend.

“Why should airlines be treated any differently than other Canadian businesses?”

Under Canada’s air passenger protection regulations, passengers are entitled to $1,000 in compensation if a flight delay or cancellation is within the airline’s control and is not required for safety reasons.

Lukacs strongly advocates that all passengers affected by the outage demand full compensation or that WestJet cover the costs of any delays.

Although he was reimbursed for flights to and from Florida, the gesture did not take away Kennedy’s hopes of celebrating his birthday under the Mexican sun rather than in the heart of the frozen prairies.

“The garbage truck was coming to pick up the trash, and my can fell over because there’s so much snow. I thought I should see this right now,” he said.

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