It was a bumpy road back home for a Regina family after enjoying a relaxing tropical vacation.
Steve Torgerson didn’t expect his family’s recent trip to Costa Rica to end as they drove through two and a half provinces to return to their home in Regina.
But that’s how their final journey ended after the group encountered a number of obstacles along the way.
Torgerson, along with his wife, three children and mother-in-law, went on a family vacation to Liberia, Costa Rica during the April vacation.
Their route back home was from Costa Rica to Pearson International Airport in Toronto, followed by a connecting flight to Calgary and then to Regina.
Their return flight home on April 23 was delayed due to a broken air conditioner on the plane, but Torgerson said the delay was about 20 to 25 minutes before flight and airport crews could resume takeoff preparations for the plane.
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Due to the delay in Costa Rica, the family learned that they had missed their connecting flight to Calgary, meaning they would miss their last trip home to Regina as planned.
When the family arrived in Toronto, they realized bigger troubles lay ahead.
“After clearing customs and packing our bags, we went to the front desk and found there were no officers at the WestJet kiosks,” Torgerson said.
“We were told someone would come and help us, but no one came. About an hour later it didn’t seem to be going well, so we called their 1-800 number.”
Torgerson went on to say that he had spoken to three WestJet representatives for a few hours, but the conversation did not go as he had hoped.
“We spoke to some great people but they said there was nothing they could do and the problem was not WestJet’s problem, so they didn’t give us food or hotel vouchers,” Torgerson added.
WestJet told them they had a few different flight options. They can move two people from their group of six to fly home a few days later or they can have the entire group fly home three days later.
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But the airline said it couldn’t get all six home because every flight, including WestJet and other airlines, was fully booked for several days.
“It was at this point that we were finally talking to people and realized this wasn’t working,” Torgerson recalls.
“There was no indication that they were going to get us home any time soon, and with high school students and (my wife and I) having to do work, things started to get worrisome.”
Stranded at an airport a few counties away from home and running out of time, the family decided it would be faster to rent a car and drive from Toronto to Regina.
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“There was a period of frustration, but then it was really kind of a surprise. I was shocked and a little stunned that nothing was there,” he said.
“There was no indication that they would get us home on time and there was nothing they would do. They wouldn’t help us rent a car. They basically said, ‘You’re on your own.’”
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So Torgerson and the rest of the family got into a rental car and drove 38 hours back home to Regina—or just over 2,600 miles.
They took turns driving and sleeping. At one point, they even approached the site of a head-on collision between a truck and a semi-truck, delaying their ride for a few more hours as the road had to be closed temporarily.
Being one of the first motorists to get into the collision, both he and his wife decided to get out of the vehicle and administer first aid until first responders and police arrived.
“There were injuries, but fortunately we learned that there were no fatalities.”
In the end, they missed a day of work and their children missed a day of school because of the delays.
Exhausted after two days of traveling on the road, they decided to file a claim under the Air Passenger Protection Regulations (APPR) to try and get some compensation from the airline.
WestJet did give them credit in their WestJet account after they failed the flights home, but the family hoped for more.
“What I was looking for was something like, ‘Hey, we know you missed your flight. It might not be our fault, maybe it is. We’ll see what we can do now, since you’re at the airport’ said Torgerson.
“Instead we got, ‘It’s not our fault, good luck.’ It was a bit of a disappointment to get that from the company.”
Torgerson said their APPR claim was denied by WestJet and that the airline had told them that further discussions on the matter should take place through the Canadian Transportation Agency (CTA).
He and his wife are now going through the CTA to get answers as to why their submission was rejected.
Response from WestJet
In a statement from WestJet on Friday, the company says it has attempted to rebook the family on a next available flight, which unfortunately was three days later, and with a different airline.
“We apologize for the inconvenience these guests have experienced and we understand that three days is a significant wait time, but unfortunately every flight, including WestJet and other airlines, has been fully booked up to that time,” the statement read.
WestJet added that since the guests chose to drive for the duration of their trip, the airline gave all six guests a credit to reimburse the parts of their journey they were unable to fly “as a goodwill gesture”.
“Unfortunately, because these guests’ travels were impacted by events beyond WestJet’s control, they are not eligible for compensation under APPR,” WestJet continued.
“It is important to understand that our flight schedules and availability have changed. At our lowest point in the pandemic, WestJet has only operated 40 flights, while today we have about 450 to 500 flights, which is still well below pre-pandemic levels, with more than 700 flights a day.”
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