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Air passenger rights advocate says WestJet violated regulations in Charlottetown couple’s incident

Gabor Lukács at Supreme court.
Gabor Lukács at Supreme court. - Eric Wynne

‘Take it to court’

A Charlottetown couple’s incident with WestJet was yet another example of existing air travel laws not being enforced, says a high-profile passenger rights advocate.

Gábor Lukács, founder and coordinator of the non-profit Air Passenger Rights, told The Guardian he felt WestJet violated regulations during the incident described by Charlottetown resident Mike Bradley last week.

“I think the passenger has a very strong case here,” said Lukács. “But I also expect WestJet may try to be combative and try to see whether the passenger will take it to court.

“And the passenger should take it to court.”

Bradley and his girlfriend’s flight from Moncton to Toronto was delayed by about eight hours due to a mechanical issue, which led to the two missing a flight to Cuba for a seven-day vacation.

After being offered two alternatives that would involve the couple paying for a hotel out of pocket, with one also including to pay an extra $1,000 for his original seven-day vacation, the two were flown back to Moncton and offered a refund for the vacation package.

Bradley was later able to get a refund for $900 for his Air Miles from his travel agent, however he said the incident has still left him short more than $800 in associated costs.

Bradley said he was contacted by WestJet Vacations on Friday and, after also speaking with Lukács, has sent a letter for that compensation.

“The fact it’s still WestJest Vacations reaching out and not WestJet themselves leads me to believe they’re still a bit hesitant,” he said. “I’m still very confident I’ll get everything back.”

Lukács, who has filed more than two dozen successful complaints with the Canadian Transportation Agency (CTA), said he saw two main issues in the described incident; a failure to reimburse the full damages caused by the original delay as well as a failure of not booking the passengers on another airline’s flight.

Under international flights, Lukács said rights are covered under the Montreal Convention treaty, which provides up to $8,600 in liability to passengers for compensation.

Lukács said the lengthy delay meant the entire airfare as well as the out-of-pocket expenses should be compensated.

“Clearly, because he had losses, he’ll have to be made whole,” said Lukács.

Lukács said WestJet also had a legal obligation to put the customer on another airline’s flight.

Lukács pointed to a 2012 decision by the CTA which stemmed from several complaints filed by himself. The ruling ordered that WestJet, Air Canada and Air Transat could not limit themselves to only considering their own services when identifying alternative flights.

“They cannot say we will only rebook you on your own flight,” said Lukács, who described the failure to book the couple on another airline as an aggravating factor.

In a statement provided to the Guardian, WestJet said it would be working with Bradley to bring the situation to a “satisfactory closure.”

The incident also came just before Monday’s unveiling of the proposed federal passenger bill of rights, which Lukács was highly critical of and said could actually take away from passenger rights.

Lukács said many incidents, such as Bradley’s, are a case of existing laws not being applied and enforced.

“Canadians don’t need more laws, they need more enforcement.”

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