Westjet to offer refunds for cancelled flights


Westjet becomes the first major Canadian carrier to offer refunds for flights cancelled due to the pandemic

Process could take up to nine months to complete

A Westjet Boeing 737-800 departs Vancouver International Airport in July 2019. The airline will be the first mainline carrier to offer refunds for cancelled flights (photo: Brett Ballah).

Westjet announced Wednesday it would be the first mainline Canadian carrier to offer refunds to people whose flights were cancelled as a result of the global pandemic. The move came after months of public and growing political pressure.

“We are an airline that has built its reputation on putting people first,” said Westjet President and Chief Executive Officer Ed Sims. “We have heard loud and clear from the travelling public that in this COVID world they are looking for reassurance on two fronts: the safest possible travel environment; and refunds.”

The decision applies to both Westjet and Swoop flights.

“Up until this point, quite plainly, the financial position of airlines around the world has been precarious,” Sims wrote in a blog post. “Since March, we have done everything we can to reduce costs and streamline our operations as best we could in the face of a 95 per cent drop in demand. We went 72 days in a row where cancellations outstripped bookings, something that has not happened – ever – in our almost 25-year history.”

Sims pointed out 140 of the airline’s 181 aircraft are still parked on any given day. And the company has laid off 4,000 employees.

A long process

Since mid-March, Westjet’s schedule has been decimated as passengers stayed home, following public health advice. Most recently, the company announced it was closing five bases in Eastern Canada, hoping to return some day.

Westjet, along with Air Canada, initially refused to provide refunds, offering instead travel vouchers. The move drew outrage on social media and at least one class action lawsuit.

“To our guests – thank you for your patience these past eight months as we did everything to ensure we could afford to get to this news today,” wrote Sims. He did not say how much the move would cost.

Starting November 2, the airline will contact passengers whose flights were cancelled due to COVID-19. Westjet will offer them a refund to their original form of payment. The whole process could take between six and nine months.

Hopefully love us once more

“It has been incredibly disheartening for anyone working here at one of Canada’s most beloved brands not to be able to demonstrate that we have our guests at the heart of every decision,” said Sims. “Through the efforts of thousands of WestJetters, we are confident that we can now begin providing refunds proactively. We are the first national airline in Canada to do so.”

Flair, which is much smaller, has offered refunds for cancelled flights since March. Then-CEO Jim Scott said at the time the decision had a lot to do with economics and credit card policies.

Transat CEO Michel Eustache has tied refunds to an offer of government assistance. That hasn’t happened. Though Sims credited federal wage subsidies with helping Westjet survive the most trying time he’s seen in 35 years in the business.

“Love us or hate us right now,” he wrote, “we are doing everything we can to make sure we’re around tomorrow, and next year, for you hopefully to, love us once more.”

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