Grieving Calgary widow denied reimbursement for family vacation offered partial refund after all
'Everyone's sorry for our loss but not willing to go beyond their computer screen to try to help us'
Update Oct. 5: After CBC News published this story, the Calgary woman who recently lost her husband to cancer and then found out she wouldn't be reimbursed if she cancelled her family's vacation says that both the airline and third-party booking company have reached out.
Cynthia Clark says she's been contacted by both WestJet and Club Med.
WestJet contacted Clark on Friday evening to apologize and explain.
Clark says Club Med is also refunding 100 per cent of her late husband's portion of the family vacation.
The original article appears below.
A Calgary woman who recently lost her husband to cancer and then found out she wouldn't be reimbursed if she cancelled the family vacation they were supposed to take together has now been offered a refund or ticket name-change after all.
In November 2018, Cynthia Clark's husband was diagnosed with brain cancer. But after a year's worth of surgeries, radiation and chemotherapy, the Calgary family decided to book a holiday when news came that his prognosis was less dire than expected.
Clark says the package was booked through Club Med, a third-party booking company, and that her family was sold an airline and hotel package for 10 people.
Knowing the unpredictability of the situation, they purchased a worry-free insurance policy in order to have peace of mind while booking their trip.
Clark says they were told the insurance would cover them no matter what. However, that ended up not being the case.
"Much to our surprise we found out that my husband had another tumour … He was not responding to treatment as expected and it was a really sad day for all of us to learn that he had months and not a year or two left with us," she said.
Three weeks ago, Clark's husband accessed a medically assisted death. He died peacefully at home. But while grieving the loss, the family was left to decide what to do about the vacation they booked.
Clark and her family decided to cancel the trip. But after connecting with Club Med and the insurance company, they were told about a clause that would prevent any reimbursement.
"We discovered actually there was a terminal illness clause in the policy and we would not be able to access or refund any of our money," she said.
CBC News reached out to Club Med for comment, but has not received a response.
No refunds with WestJet
Outraged by the lack of communication with Club Med prior to the booking, Clark and her family decided to go ahead with the trip, but requested a refund for her husband's portion.
After discussing this with Club Med, Clark says she was told their land package would be taken care of but any resolution on flights would have to go through WestJet.
Clark says WestJet then countered this claim and said Club Med was the one responsible and there was nothing the airline could do.
I mean I can't dig my husband up and take him on a flight to Mexico with me.- Cynthia Clark
"Our experience reaching out with WestJet was that they were unwilling to even speak to me about it. We hadn't bought it through them so they weren't touching it and when I asked for escalation to speak to a supervisor to explain the situation I was hung up on," said Clark.
Clark says she was disappointed WestJet did not attempt to resolve their situation. She says she even asked if there could be a name change on the ticket but was still told no.
"They weren't even willing to issue a name change for the ticket. So that somebody could enjoy the trip that we've paid quite a lot of money for," she said.
"I mean, I can't dig my husband up and take him on a flight to Mexico with me."
WestJet markets itself as 'cancer-positive'
One day while Clark was scrolling through Facebook, she saw a posting by WestJet stating they were sponsoring the CIBC event Run for the Cure and partnering with the Canadian Cancer Society.
"They're sort of marketing themselves as cancer positive … I would love for WestJet to be the kind of local company that it advertises to be," she said.
Filled with anger and disheartened by her experience with the airline, Clark commented on their page questioning why her family was never sponsored.
That's when Clark noticed the multiple comments of people sharing similar stories with the company
"I've heard other stories in sharing mine of people who didn't get a resolution of any sort and they probably needed that resolution more than I did from a financial perspective," she said. "I'm really disappointed in sort of the lack of humanity in this situation."
Still, despite reaching out over social media and writing letters to the vice president and media team, the only response Clark ever heard was "I'm sorry for your loss."
"It feels like everyone's sorry for our loss but not really willing to go much beyond their computer screen to try to help us," she said.
CBC News reaches out
Clark says after her continuous frustrations, she reached out to CBC News to share her story.
"I find it a hard pill to swallow that this local company who is very generous in their media offerings and of how supportive they are of the local community and underprivileged people is so unwilling when there's not a 30-second commercial spot on it," she said.
After CBC News sent an inquiry to the airline, WestJet responded saying their sales division has reached out to Club Med since the situation was "concerning."
"WestJet does not have control over ticketing details or any payment that was processed and was unfortunately unable to facilitate any changes to this reservation unless they were requested by the third-party… Our team has contacted Club Med to provide the necessary waiver code in relation to airfare," said WestJet in a emailed statement.
On Friday, Clark said Club Med notified her that the company had decided to offer her either a refund on her late husband's ticket or a name-change so that someone else could take his place.
Someone has spoken to CBC, no one has spoken to me.- Cynthia Clark
Clark says she's still disappointed that it took this much time and grief to get a resolution.
"My husband died three and a half weeks ago and I'm spending my days dealing with insurance policies, pension plans, land titles, lawyers, wills, funeral homes and grieving children," she said.
Clark says even though she's heard through CBC News her problem has been resolved, she has not been contacted by WestJet or Club Med about the voucher change.
"I haven't even had anyone speak to me. Someone has spoken to CBC News, no one has spoken to me," she said.
What she wants to see in the future is for no patron to go through a similar situation. She hopes after sharing her story the airline changes its protocols around death and show more compassion to grieving families.
"Go a step further and say how can we make sure this doesn't happen again to anyone else … whether it's addressing their policies and procedures or empowering the call centre staff to be compassionate," she said.
"I don't appreciate being told a company cares when they're really just sorry for my loss and want to get off the phone and keep that money."
With files from Helen Pike