Nfld. & Labrador

N.L. travellers stuck in holiday limbo as WestJet cancels flights home for Christmas

Thousands of travellers, including hundreds of Newfoundlanders and Labradorians, are in limbo following flight cancellations by WestJet. Multiple travelers have told CBC News they've been told the earliest they can travel to St. John's from Toronto is Boxing Day.

Travellers told the earliest they can fly is Boxing Day

Frustrated travellers stand in Toronto's Pearson Airport.
Thousands of travellers, including hundreds of Newfoundlanders and Labradorians, are in limbo following flight cancellations by WestJet. Multiple travelers have told CBC News they've been told the earliest they can travel to St. John's is Boxing Day. (Submitted by Bob Lemar)

Hundreds of Newfoundlanders and Labradorians are facing the prospect of spending Christmas at Pearson International Airport in Toronto as they battle with WestJet to get home after their flights were unexplainably cancelled.

Gerry Neil of Conception Bay South, travelling to Newfoundland from Florida with his family, learned his flight to St. John's was delayed by two hours when he landed in Toronto on Sunday. Thirty minutes later, he learned his flight was cancelled altogether.

"We went and spoke to a WestJet agent. They themselves at that point weren't aware that the flight was cancelled," Neil told CBC News from Toronto.

"When they came back, they initially said it was for safety reasons. Then a few minutes later somebody said maintenance, and the excuses have been passed around pretty much the last 24 hours as to why."

Neil and his family were sent to a hotel with an accommodation and meal voucher by WestJet, and he was told he'd receive his new itinerary within four hours of the cancellation. Eighteen hours later, he received the email.

"Pretty much told us all at that point that the earliest we're looking at now is a Boxing Day departure," he said. "The eight-year-old sort of knows, he pieced it together that we're probably not going to be home for Santa Claus, so he's a little bit upset about that."

Travellers move through Pearson International Airport.
Gerry Neil estimates there are between 200 and 300 Newfoundlanders in line at the WestJet support desk in Toronto. (Submitted by Bob Lemar)

Neil, along with any other travellers headed for Newfoundland, has been told by WestJet to return to the airport each day to receive a new hotel voucher and make sure their Boxing Day flight is still confirmed.

He says many in the airport are frustrated, especially since answers from the airline have been vague.

"It's a big hub that we're in, so why not put on a bigger plane that they could add us on with the original flight tonight? Or add on a rescue flight, as they keep calling it, where it's just another flight that they bring in," he said.

"We figured we were safe flying home a week before Christmas, that if we did get delayed we'd still get home on time. We had planned to spend it with family. My wife recently lost her mother a couple months ago, so this was going to be a hard Christmas as it was for her and the kids. And now it's just, I guess, pushed us over the top."

I don't know how WestJet can get away with this.​​​​​​- Valerie Goodyear

Valerie Goodyear's family are also among the travellers trapped in Toronto. They had planned to arrive in Newfoundland on Sunday for what would have been her daughter's first Christmas home in a decade.

"This would be my first Christmas with my daughter since she's had her child.… This would have been her first Christmas home since her child was born, and her child was born 10 years ago. So this was quite a visit," Goodyear said Monday.

"I haven't slept, I'm disappointed. I've cried. I want to make it better and get her home, but right now it's like we don't know what's going on.… Something I was looking forward to, and thought was going to be a great Christmas, is now going to be no Christmas."

A family pose for a professional photo. Each family member is wearing a red flannel jacket, and a white retriever stands in the foreground.
From left: Sheila McMillan, Olivia McMillan and Mike Klienfelder are trying to travel to St. John's for their first Christmas home in a decade. McMillan's mother, Valerie Goodyear, says the outlook doesn't look positive. (Submitted by Valerie Goodyear)

Goodyear says her daughter has yet to hear concrete details on when her family could leave the airport. She's tried to book seats on a different airline.

"WestJet is saying they have no flights to accommodate this full plane of people that are travelling," she said.

"It's just frustrating that WestJet are not being held accountable, or at least not giving the passengers a just reason as to why they were cancelled and a just reason as to why they cannot accommodate them to their destination. It's frustrating."

CBC News has asked WestJet for comment on the situation, but Goodyear hopes the airline will do a lot more than just provide words.

"WestJet needs to stand up to the plate," she said. "They still have no answers. And I don't know how WestJet can get away with this."

Read more from CBC Newfoundland and Labrador


Alex Kennedy


Alex Kennedy is a digital reporter with CBC Newfoundland and Labrador based in Corner Brook. He previously worked with CBC N.L. in St. John's, and has a particular interest in stories about sports and interesting people.


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