By Jaymie White
Local Journalism Initiative Reporter
– with files from Rosalyn Roy
PORT AUX BASQUES – Come Home Year is intended to be a time for celebrating with family and friends; however, for many people trying to get home for the summer, time they should be spending celebrating is instead spent scrambling to find new flights back home to the province after their initial flights have been unexpectedly cancelled.
Jillian Bishop, who currently lives in Alberta, has experienced numerous setbacks in her attempt to get her family home after WestJet delayed her family’s flights, while cancelling hers altogether.
“It’s costing us now. Just because of what WestJet did, cancelled my flights and didn’t let me know, my one flight home now to Deer Lake is costing more than my husband’s and kids’ flights combined when they flew home to St. John’s. They didn’t give me any notification at all. And then as for my husband and kids’ flights, we were on our way to the airport, halfway there – it’s about the same as driving from Port Aux Basques to Corner Brook so, two-and-a-half-hour drive – and we got a text from West Jet saying their flights were postponed from Monday the 27 of June at 1:00 to midnight on Tuesday/Wednesday.”
Bishop said the extra money that they’ve had to pay is substantial.
“So, in total, our flights home and back for four people, it was around the $3,000 mark and now we’re over $4,000. It’s absolutely ludicrous that domestic travel is so expensive. That’s really the issue, domestic flights in Canada. There is a monopoly. There really isn’t any competition. Someone said to me the other day that it’s astonishing how much it costs to fly from East to West compared to North to South, because we could probably go to Cuba twice for what it’s costing us to come home. So now we’re at a point where we can’t come home every year. Even though we really want to, we just can’t afford it.”
Bishop said cancelled flights are not the only issues she is hearing about.
“Now we’re at the point where I’m terrified to go through Toronto, because Toronto is one of the main problem areas and I don’t want to, but I need to bring clothes. I need to bring luggage, but they’re losing so much luggage that I’m thinking it might just be better to ship my clothes home through Canada Post. I don’t know.”
Currently, Bishop has not received any compensation from WestJet for the cancellations and delays.
“I haven’t been offered any compensation by WestJet. I had travel insurance for my flight home and because WestJet cancelled the flights, I’m guessing because they are understaffed. No I don’t get any compensation for that at all. I just got a refund,” said Bishop. “I have put in a compensation request with WestJet because apparently they’re delayed. So, I mean, I won’t get anything, but Brian and the kids might. If you’re delayed you can get compensated for it and because they were delayed for over nine hours they could get compensated $1,000 each, but Brian’s not holding out much hope for that. I really am, though, because then that will help pay for the difference in my ticket.”
Bishop said she had to change the airlines she was flying with to save a bit of money after the WestJet cancellation.
“I got Brian and the two kids home for about $1,000, and for me to fly into Deer Lake alone – so one person – I think my total was $1,100. With WestJet it would’ve been $1,400 though, so what I did is I booked through Air Canada to Moncton and then I booked from Moncton to Deer Lake through Provincial Airlines. I didn’t check into Sunwing because I didn’t even really know about it. The trip in total, I think it’s at $4,200, and it was at about $3,700 or $3,600. I can’t remember exactly.”
Bishop’s vacation won’t be cut short, but the rearrangement of her husband’s flight impacted his time spent at home with family and friends.
“It shortened Brian’s trip home because he only had five days because he had a redeye. Even though it was really only the next day they flew, they lost a day, so really he had five days and only got two-and-a-half days.”
Bishop said she booked early specifically in order to avoid paying such high prices and ended up having to pay them anyway.
“My ticket I booked through WestJet in April, because I didn’t want to pay a high amount. I paid $463 for mine, and then when I went to book the same day, it was $1,400 with WestJet, my $463 included. Because I didn’t get the basic. I had cancellation and choose my own seat and bring my own baggage, so it could’ve been cheaper. I believe it was originally around $300 without all the bells and whistles.”
Bishop said that even though the price went up much higher than anticipated once her initial flight was cancelled, she simply cannot forego flying and drive home instead.
“If I had to drive home, it would be about six days, plus I would still have to take the (Marine Atlantic ferry) boat, and I mean the boat is really cost-prohibitive too. I haven’t looked into what that would cost me, but I don’t have that type of vacation anymore. I’m not teaching anymore. I work from home, and I only have three weeks’ vacation per year, so I’d lose two weeks just driving. So flying, to me, is not optional.”
Bishop said she understands now that the cancellation happened due to understaffing, but that wasn’t what she originally believed.
“I had thought when they cancelled it was to recoup gas prices because what else would make the flights jump up so high? I know last minute bookings, but the prices have went dramatically up since I booked back in April. Thank goodness we got a tax return and got a refund because we wouldn’t be able to afford it. We used to come home every summer. Now we’re looking at hopefully being able to afford every second summer.”
Bishop said the cost of inter-provincial travel has always been a problem for Canadians, and Newfoundlanders in particular.
“When we lived in Newfoundland, we were there for six years and we didn’t leave because it was too expensive to fly. The only options off the island are to fly or take a boat, really,” said Bishop. “If I could have whatever I wanted, I think it could be really nice if the, either provincial government or federal government, give everyone a once-a-year free pass off the island because we can’t just leave the province like every other province. We have to pay to leave our province. I think it would be great if we got compensation for one trip a year off the island. To me, you’re at a disadvantage living in Newfoundland because you’re pretty much isolated unless you have a lot of money.”
Ideally Bishop would like to see lower prices.
“We are, I think, the most expensive country to travel domestically in. That’s what I’ve heard. And we need better customer service. They are jamming us in there like sardines. If you weigh more than 150 pounds you’ve got to worry about if you’re going to be intruding on someone else’s space. There was nothing like with the good old days with flights. I remember when they used to serve a full meal and it didn’t cost you anything extra, or you could sit comfortably and not be spilling over into someone else’s seat. That would be nice.”