UPDATE: This story has been updated to reflect the fact that Flair Airlines is also in contract negotiations with its pilots.
WestJet pilots could go on strike this week, a prospect that has Canadians across the country sitting on the edge of their booked airplane seats.
The Calgary-based airline says it remains “confident” that it will reach an agreement, as negotiations with the Air Line Pilots Association (ALPA) resume in Calgary this week.
“We are back at the bargaining table this week and we continue to work diligently with ALPA on a settlement,” WestJet Airlines told Global News in an emailed statement.
ALPA tweeted a similar message on Monday, saying WestJet pilots “are committed to reaching an agreement with management.”
But what if the parties cannot reach an agreement?
WATCH: No strike action for Westjet pilots still causing turbulence for passengers.
WestJet pilots have already gained the right to walk off the job, after voting 91 per cent in favour of a strike on May 10. A strike could have started as soon as Saturday, May 19, but the union pledged to postpone any labour action until after the Victoria Day long weekend.
WATCH: Expert opinions: how is potential WestJet pilot strike affecting the airline’s brand?
Here’s what travellers need to know:
Will you get a refund?
WestJet will be refunding the full fare, including fees and taxes, to any travellers whose flights are cancelled due to a labour stoppage, WestJet confirmed to Global News.
The airline has been tweeting as much to passengers since news of the potential strike broke on May 10.
Still, whether you’ll have to pay out of pocket to book another flight or cover costs while you’re stranded away from home, is more complicated.
If your WestJet flight departs from the European Union or Iceland, Liechtenstein and Norway then, according to airline passenger advocate Gabor Lukacs, under European regulations, you’re entitled to:
- in cash compensation in the amount of 600 euro ($902) or half as much if you experience a delay of less than four hours;
- offer you alternative transportation;
- refund your airfare, if you choose to return to your point of origin;
- provide you with meals, accommodation, ground transportation, and two free phone calls or emails, while you’re stranded.
If your flight includes an international segment, you are entitled to:
- a refund for “reasonable expenses” incurred for things like meals, accommodation and ground transportation;
- compensation for the cost of flying with another airline, if WestJet can’t get you on one of its flight “within a reasonable amount of time”;
- lost wages;
- any other loss you may have experienced because of the delay.
WATCH: Deadline looming for possible strike action at WestJet
However, there’s a catch. Federal law allows airlines to avoid this liability if they can prove they took “reasonable steps” to avoid the delay.
“WestJet may attempt to deny compensation on the basis of this exception,” according to Lukacs, but “it is not likely to succeed in court.”
Still, if your travel is entirely within Canada, you get the worst deal. All you’re entitled to is a refund of your flight or a rebooking, free of charge, on a later flight.
“Canadian travellers are shortchanged in this regard, compared to their European counterparts,” Lukac told Global News via email.
WATCH: What the Westjet strike vote means for passengers
How else can you get there (or back home)?
WestJet rivals have already said they stand ready to scoop up passengers grounded by the strike.
Air Canada announced on May 10 it added capacity on key transcontinental routes. The question, though, is what the price difference will be between those flights and many Canadians’ original WestJet booking.
No-frills carrier Flair Air, a direct competitor of WestJet’s new low-cost airline Swoop, has also offered to “swoop in” stranded Canadians. And here’s the good news: Flair is offering to match the fare customers originally paid on their WestJet booking, provided they can show a receipt.
Update: Flair is also currently engaged in contract negotiations with its pilots, who have voted in favour of legal job action if an agreement cannot be reached. Both parties remain optimistic about upcoming talks starting June 5. Flair told Global News that “there is no risk of flight cancellations and delays.”
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