One of Canada’s major airlines, WestJet, has announced they will be “consolidating” 20 per cent of February flights due to staffing shortages caused by the Omicron variant.
WestJet had previously cancelled 15 per cent of January flights, and this news has thrown a wrench in many Canadians’ travel plans, resulting in a total cancellation or a rescheduled itinerary for many travellers.
Ashley Blank, who works for Enterprise Holdings and is a frequent traveller, recently vacationed in Hawaii and faced having to cope with a completely new flight schedule only a week before her trip.
“We were really limited with the options to change to a different flight,” Blank said. “One being leaving a day early, and then the one being leaving a day late.”
Missing out on a day of vacation was unheard of for Blank and her travel companions, so they opted to leave a day later than originally planned. Instead of having a direct flight back to Calgary, they flew to Vancouver, had a seven hour layover in the middle of the night and faced B.C.’s provincial testing requirements.
“With WestJet, trying to get ahold of a customer service agent was very frustrating,” said Blank, who was disconnected from the call multiple times. “You have to book a call time and we were out about five days before we could actually talk to somebody.”
Blank said the compassion she received from the airline was completely different from other times she has travelled in the past.
“They were a lot more lenient and a lot more flexible and accommodating with compensation and trying to make things work for you,” Blank said, but she was told by the airline there was nothing they could do other than seek compensation through travel insurance. Filing a claim can be a long and draining process.
“If you bought a ticket and you needed to change or cancel, they were waiving the fees, but a lot of that has changed since the uptake in travel since after the summer,” Patel said, noting his agency has seen around 20 per cent of their customers either cancel their plans or reschedule due to flight consolidations.
Patel said business is booming through the Omicron wave because travellers have become antsy, and most are fully vaccinated and are ready to get on with their life again. People are aware of the risks and are subject to extra fees because COVID-19 and its consequences are no longer unforeseen or unexpected.
Many travellers are back to utilizing travel agencies because of the ever-changing restrictions that vary from country to country. Agents are well-versed with the most up-to-date information, but Patel said it has become a time-consuming ordeal.
The Airline Ticket Centre deals with over 500 carriers and Patel said each carrier has different rules and policies, and a lot of agents are overwhelmed dealing with so many scenarios.
Patel recommends travellers get themselves educated on restrictions and policies, arrive to the airport two to three hours early and have all documents readily available digitally.