British Columbia

Airlines responsible for preventing inconvenience during Max jet groundings, advocate says

When Terry Cashin planned his upcoming cruise, he didn't think the trip to get from his home in Abbotsford to San Diego would take two days.

Airlines have to prove they took necessary steps to prevent flight cancellations or delays, says Gabor Lukacs

Airline passengers were left scrambling to re-book flights earlier this year, after the federal government's decision to ground all Boeing 737 Max 8s and 9s by barring the jet from Canada's airspace. (Aaron Vincent Elkaim/The Canadian Press)

When Terry Cashin planned his upcoming cruise, he didn't think the trip to get from his home in Abbotsford to San Diego would take two days.

His trip originally had him flying from Abbotsford to Calgary, then connecting to fly to San Diego.

Now, he says, WestJet told him that because its Max 7 and Max 8 jets have been grounded, his Abbotsford to Calgary flight will be the day before his flight to San Diego. That means he will have to spend the night in Calgary, a cost the airline says it's not responsible for.

"I understand this is beyond their control," said Cashin. "But when I told them this could cost about $200 for hotels and meals, they said 'sorry that's your own expense' ... I thought that was unfair."

'Uncontrollable delay'

Transport Canada decided to close Canadian airspace to the aircraft after a Max 8 jet operated by Ethiopian Airlines crashed on March 10, killing all 157 people on board, including 18 Canadians. Previously, a Max 8 plane crashed off Indonesia in October, killing 189 people.

WestJet says the Max jets grounding falls under its uncontrollable delay policy, therefore, it's not responsible for costs incurred by passengers.

Airline passenger rights advocate, Gabor Lukacs says airlines have had more than enough time to figure out rescheduling passengers.

"The airline cannot just point the finger to the grounding of the Boeing 737 Max 8 and say that's the reason," he said. "That's not enough ... the airline still has a duty to take all reasonable measures to prevent damage to the passenger."

He says that could include rebooking passengers on other flights, or leasing an aircraft from another company. The airline needs to be able to prove it took appropriate measures to prevent an extra cost to the passenger.

Lukacs recommends passengers document experiences with airlines' customer service representatives. If costs are incurred, passengers could take the case to small claims court.

"If the airlines start getting hundreds or thousands of claims from passengers they will have to pay. If there are many claims of the same nature it may well become a class action."

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