WestJet strike: Why you may want to think twice before changing a flight

WestJet strike: Why you may want to think twice before changing a flight

WestJet says it is offering “additional flexibility” to air travellers ahead of the potential strike action by the airline’s pilots to provide “peace of mind.”

But a consumer advocate is cautioning passengers about accepting the offer.

The Air Line Pilots Association (ALPA), which represents approximately 1,600 flight crew at WestJet and its subsidiary Swoop, issued a 72-hour strike notice Monday to the airline’s management and the federal government. The strike action will begin at 5 a.m. Eastern (3 a.m. Mountain) on Friday unless a deal is reached, the union said.

Click to play video: 'WestJet pilots strike: Air passenger advocate urges caution in possibly rebooking flight'

WestJet pilots strike: Air passenger advocate urges caution in possibly rebooking flight

With the strike looming, WestJet issued its own statement on Tuesday offering options to passengers looking to change or cancel their flights or WestJet Vacations if booked between May 15 and May 21, applied to all potential fares.

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Among the options are a $0 one-time fee waiver offered for changes or cancellations.

For those who decide to change their destination, the airline says the customer would pay any difference in fares, but a refund would be made if customers decided to cancel the booking altogether.

Click to play video: 'WestJet pilots issue 72 hour strike notice'

WestJet pilots issue 72 hour strike notice

But Air Passenger Rights president Gabor Lukacs warns these offers may not be as beneficial compared to what passengers could receive and they should be aware of what rights they already have.

“It’s really a way of trying to convince passengers to not avail themselves of their rights. You may want to do this if you think that it will be less stressful for you, but WestJet is trying to game the system,” Lukacs said in an interview with Motorcycle accident toronto today.

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Under the Air Passenger Protections Regulations, an airline must offer alternative travel arrangements if a flight is cancelled in the same class as originally booked free of charge using a “reasonable route” within 48 hours of the original departure time. The passenger must also be rebooked either on the next available flight by the airline or one they have a commercial agreement with.

According to Lukacs, there is a “sequence” that passengers should consider before seeking out the options WestJet is providing.

Click to play video: 'Planning summer travel amid an anticipated WestJet pilot strike'

Planning summer travel amid an anticipated WestJet pilot strike

“Wait until the flight is cancelled. Give WestJet a chance to rebook you. If they refuse to do so or fail to do so, or if they refuse to rebook you on flights of other airlines, for example, even though they don’t have their own flight within 48 hours, then you can go and buy your own ticket and then you send the bill to WestJet,” he said, adding if they still won’t pay the bill, a person can take it to small claims court.

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“I would say, don’t be a pushover. Stand your ground. You bought a ticket, you paid good money weeks and months in advance for a flight on a given date.”

Click to play video: 'Canadian fliers get ready for possible work stoppage at WestJet/Swoop'

Canadian fliers get ready for possible work stoppage at WestJet/Swoop

As the strike inches closer, Flair Airlines announced on Tuesday that it would be adding extra flights to Vancouver, Calgary and Edmonton beginning on the holiday weekend, saying it “hopes to help Canadians impacted by the WestJet pilots strike.”

Asked if it would do the same, Air Canada said in a statement that its fleet was already fully deployed and “we have minimal ability to increase capacity further,” however, the airline said it was prepared to assist. It cautioned while it would attempt to accommodate customers looking for new bookings, it “is to be expected that demand will exceed capacity.”

WestJet itself also took action in response to the strike announcing it had issued a lockout notice on Monday, adding it was preparing to work on a reduced schedule and would “proactively” manage changes and cancellations.

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Click to play video: 'What would a WestJet pilot strike mean for travellers?'

What would a WestJet pilot strike mean for travellers?

“The decision to issue a lockout notice, in response to the actions taken by the union (Monday), was not one that was made lightly, and we sincerely regret the inconvenience and uncertainty this continues to cause for our guests,” the statement read.

The airline says people who booked directly with WestJet or Swoop will receive communication via email, while those who booked with a travel agent or a third party online will need to contact them directly.

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