Regina travellers scramble to make new plans after strike forces WestJet flight cancellations

A passenger walks past a WestJet plane in a file photo. Mechanics with the airline went on strike Friday. (Jeff McIntosh/The Canadian Press - image credit)
A passenger walks past a WestJet plane in a file photo. Mechanics with the airline went on strike Friday. (Jeff McIntosh/The Canadian Press - image credit)

WestJet flight cancellations after the airline's unionized mechanics went on strike left people in Regina scrambling for other ways to reach their destinations on Saturday — including, for at least one traveller, considering a 17-hour drive to catch a connecting flight from Vancouver.

Jane Li was at the Regina airport's WestJet kiosk for more than two hours trying to figure out a way to get to China. She had flights booked from Regina to Vancouver, and then to Shanghai, but the Regina to Vancouver flight was cancelled.

She had to go through the time-consuming process of booking a new route to China — one she said will now take her two days.

"I am so sad about that, and I have to re-plan my schedule," she said.

Li said she considered driving to Vancouver to catch her connecting flight, but decided that journey wasn't feasible. She now has a flight scheduled for Sunday morning, but isn't convinced that flight will go ahead as planned.

Jane Li was standing at the Regina airport’s WestJet kiosk for more than two hours to figure out a way to go to China. She had everything booked — Regina to Vancouver to Shanghai, until her first flight to Vancouver got rescheduled.
Jane Li was standing at the Regina airport’s WestJet kiosk for more than two hours to figure out a way to go to China. She had everything booked — Regina to Vancouver to Shanghai, until her first flight to Vancouver got rescheduled.

Jane Li was at the Regina airport's WestJet kiosk for more than two hours Saturday trying to figure out a way to get to China. (Shlok Talati/CBC)

"If the flight postpones for longer, then I have to postpone my plan in China, and I don't know what will be the consequences," she said.

She was among the travellers affected by a surprise strike by unionized airline mechanics at WestJet. That prompted the airline to cancel 235 flights on Saturday, affecting an estimated 33,000 passengers.

The airline said earlier Saturday it expected another 150 flights to be cancelled by the afternoon.

LISTEN | WestJet woes: Regina travellers scrambling to re-book:

The strike decision came Friday, a day after the federal labour minister directed the Canada Industrial Relations Board to impose binding arbitration to solve outstanding collective agreement issues between WestJet and the Aircraft Mechanics Fraternal Association, or AMFA.

Looking for other options

Bharat Gautam, a Regina resident, was another WestJet passenger left in the lurch by the strike — and said he was also considering the drive to Vancouver, where he's supposed to attend a family member's wedding.

Gautam said he was rebooked on a WestJet flight to Vancouver on July 1 — but that's a day too late.

"It's a very important trip because somebody's getting married, so we have to be there," he said.

If WestJet isn't able to book him on an earlier flight, Gautam said, he'd rather ask for a refund and start driving to Vancouver.

"It's difficult. The passengers still really don't know about their passenger rights, and airlines take advantage of that," he said.

A surprise strike by unionized airline mechanics at WestJet has left thousands of passengers wondering whether they would reach their destinations on Saturday after the airline cancelled 235 flights, affecting an estimated 33,000 passengers.
A surprise strike by unionized airline mechanics at WestJet has left thousands of passengers wondering whether they would reach their destinations on Saturday after the airline cancelled 235 flights, affecting an estimated 33,000 passengers.

The Regina Airport Authority advised travellers to download the WestJet app, sign up for email notifications, and check the status of any upcoming flights directly with WestJet before coming to the airport. (Shlok Talati/CBC)

Airlines have to comply with Canada's Air Passenger Protection Regulations, which give air passengers using Canadian airlines certain rights by laying out the minimum requirements companies must follow for air travel.

An airline must offer passengers a choice between helping you continue to your destination or returning to your point of origin with a refund, according to Air Passenger Rights, an independent, non-profit advocacy group.

The Regina Airport Authority has asked people to  download the WestJet app, sign up for email notifications, and if they have an upcoming flight, check the status of the flight directly with WestJet prior to coming to the airport.

Cheryl Isted, another Regina resident, had been planning since March for a week-long trip to Los Angeles to see her son. The abrupt change of flights on a long weekend has meant at least one less day with him, she said.

"It just kind of ruins our time with our family."

Cheryl Isted, a Regina resident, had planned out her week-long trip to Los Angeles to see her son since March, but flight cancellations has led her to scramble to find a new flight.
Cheryl Isted, a Regina resident, had planned out her week-long trip to Los Angeles to see her son since March, but flight cancellations has led her to scramble to find a new flight.

Cheryl Isted, a Regina resident, had been planning since March for a week-long trip to Los Angeles to see her son. (Shlok Talati/CBC)

Isted said she was told in an email that her flight was cancelled due to the flight crew being delayed. She said she had to go to the airport for help after a 45-minute call with WestJet and a two-hour call with her bank failed to solve the problem.

"It is really tough for these WestJet employees, and it is what it is, but somehow, they need to get this sorted out so that people aren't getting frustrated," she said.

On Friday, the mechanics' union said while roughly 680 workers were going ahead with strike action, it remains engaged in dialogue with the Canada Industrial Relations Board to resolve the contract impasse.

AMFA's legal counsel said even with the binding arbitration order, the union still has "a constitutional right" to take strike action.

The union's Friday statement said "the airline's unwillingness to negotiate with the union made the strike."

WestJet, meanwhile, said it is "outraged" with the move.

With a binding arbitration order in place, "the only reason for this union to continue with a strike action is to create damage, disrupt the travel plans of thousands of Canadians over the July long weekend and to inflict significant costs on our business," company president Diederik Pen said in a statement.

The airline said it plans to hold AMFA responsible for costs incurred during the strike.