Nfld. & Labrador

Most WestJet travellers make it home to N.L. but remain frustrated by airline's response

Passengers who were able to return home are detailing hours-long waits on the phone, little communication from the airline and concerns over whether the issues fuelling cancellations will affect their returning flights.

Passengers want airline to be open and honest about cancellations

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 were able to secure seats on a flight to St. John's to be home in time for Christmas. Sheila McMillan says they're frustrated by a lack of concrete answers from WestJet. (Submitted by Valerie Goodyear)

Sheila McMillan felt both happiness and guilt stepping onto her flight from Toronto to St. John's for the holidays, as she left hundreds of stranded Newfoundlanders behind.

McMillan says WestJet needs to do better to avoid future mass delays.

"I remember seeing a husband and wife with two young boys that were coming back from Orlando. There was another lady who was trying to get home for a funeral," McMillan, who began her trip in Edmonton on Sunday, told CBC News on Thursday.

"I'm excited to be able to come home but yet feeling the guilt because I'm leaving all these other people behind."

McMillan had been stuck at Pearson International Airport since Sunday and was scheduled to depart for St. John's on Boxing Day. She was able to luck into three seats for herself, her partner and her nine-year-old daughter to arrive on Wednesday morning.

"Honest to goodness, it was a Christmas miracle," McMillan said.

"The gentleman next to me saw the [seats] at the same time and he was trying to get it for the other people. But our ticket guy said, 'Nope, my three here in front of me are already booked to go."

McMillan's miracle came after days of fighting with WestJet to be rebooked, which she says came with very little communication from the airline. Thousands of travellers across Canada are in the same position and are booked for flights scheduled for after Christmas.

A long line of travellers stands in a Toronto airport.
Hundreds of WestJet passengers stand in line at Pearson International Airport each day to inquire about availability on departing flights and to receive new hotel and food vouchers for the day. (Submitted by Gerry Neil)

Passengers who have their flights cancelled by WestJet are told they will receive confirmation and a new itinerary within four hours of the cancellation. Each person interviewed by CBC News within the past week has received them between 18 hours and three days later.

McMillan received her email on Wednesday — after she had arrived in St. John's.

"You would wait on hold for an hour, then you'd be cut off. Then you'd call back, you'd be waiting on hold for an hour, then you'd be cut off," she said.

"We were literally just standing there in the lobby with bags in our hands not knowing where to go.… The front-line workers of WestJet were doing everything they could do. However, I believe that it's upper management that definitely dropped the ball on this."

WestJet responds

In an emailed statement sent Wednesday evening, WestJet said each individual interviewed by CBC News had made it back to St. John's.

"While we continue to actively search for and provide flights to those who were impacted as quickly as possible, at this time we are confident that the large majority of those impacted in Toronto travelling to St. John's have been transported to Newfoundland and Labrador," the statement said.

WestJet emailed the statement to CBC News just after 6 p.m. NT on Wednesday. About five hours later, the airline cancelled a flight from Toronto to St. John's that Brittany Swain and Seamus Hogan were scheduled to be on.

WestJet says the 'large majority"' of impacted travellers headed for St. John's have made it there. The airline says it's actively looking for flights for those remaining in Toronto. (Darryl Dyck/Bloomberg)

After going hours without hearing from the airline, the couple decided to begin the drive to Nova Scotia in order to catch Thursday night's ferry crossing to Newfoundland. They haven't received the email notifying them their flight was cancelled.

"Right off the bat it was like, 'OK, here's your information,' Kind of shooing us out the door, but yet we don't have any actual followup information four, 10 hours later," Swain told CBC News while on the road in Quebec.

"There's no way to even contact them to get on a line, or wait for five hours on hold even. Like that's not even a possibility."

The couple, along with McMillan, have return flights scheduled on WestJet and fear the worst for the next trip. They want WestJet to be more open with customers about the delays.

"You have an experience like this and you're never really expecting it to go smoothly the next time," Hogan said.

"We all truly believe there's something else happening, and we don't believe they were being truthful to us," McMillan added.

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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