Air travelers in Canada are paying close attention to a legal battle that some say could set a precedent for compensation for last-minute flight cancellations and staff shortages.
Calgary-based WestJet filed a petition earlier this month with the Federal Court of Appeal in Vancouver, arguing it should not have to compensate a passenger whose flight was canceled from Regina to Toronto , en route to Ottawa, last July.
Owen Lareau filed a complaint with the Canadian Transportation Agency (CTA) after the flight was canceled less than two hours before takeoff due to understaffing and last month the agency determined that he was entitled to $1,000 under passenger protection rules for flights delayed more than nine hours.
WestJet acknowledges that the cancellation was within its control, but was necessary for safety reasons and therefore the airline argues that it should not be liable for the compensation claim under passenger protection rules .
“It indicates that the first officer booked due to illness approximately one hour before the scheduled departure, and crew planning personnel attempted to locate an alternate first officer without success,” court documents said.
“WestJet argues that crew resources were limited because Regina is not its crew base and it was unable to find a replacement first officer for the safe operation of the flight. .”
WestJet rebooked Lareau the following day, provided him with accommodation and meal vouchers, but he did not arrive at his final destination until 9 p.m. later.
CTV News has contacted Lareau who would not comment on the matter at this time.
The Court of Appeal will now decide whether or not it will hear WestJet’s appeal, something many are watching closely as airlines come under fire for denying compensation on safety grounds.
Air Passenger Rights Chairman Dr Gábor Lukács said the government must respond to such calls from airlines.
“Morally, it is shameful. Financially and commercially, it is understandable. WestJet is trying to push the envelope trying to push its luck,” he told CTV News in an interview on Wednesday.
Lukács wants the government to amend the Air Passenger Protection Regulations (APPR) to clarify what constitutes and what does not constitute safety standards and concerns.
“The cause of the itinerary is that the APPR is badly written if it had been written because we had proposed that the airlines would not even dare to try these types of games.
Many travelers to Canada are also concerned about the case and the possible implications for future compensation claims.
“It will be a historic decision at this time because it is not just one person because it gives the airlines an excuse to deny everything on the grounds that, ‘hey, there have been delays in the safety protocol but they are clearly understaffed,'” Abehishek said. Sharma, who was flying out of Calgary International Airport on Wednesday.
“It makes me a little nervous because it becomes a catch-all excuse that everything is a security delay.”
Another Calgary traveler, Dan Reilly, says he understands airlines are facing staffing shortages, but says they still have a responsibility to their customers.
“I think a lot of it has to be on the airline because we’re limited by what we can book on flights and we’re at their mercy, especially if they leave you in the middle of a trip somewhere.” , he said.
Tannins Thompson, another air traveler in Calgary, agrees and says airlines must make up for delays and cancellations in the form of compensation or credit.
“It’s no different than any other service, if (you) can’t provide the service – you return the money.”
Advocates say many people don’t have the financial resources to fight the airlines in court and fear many will drop their compensation claims.
WestJet told CTV News they would not comment on the case as it is before the courts.
(With files from The Canadian Press)
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