Family Trip

Winter getaway trip hits travel turbulence for Red Deer family

A one-week mid-winter getaway turned into a journey into the travel twilight zone for a Red Deer family.

Leigh and Mark Stuart and their eight-year-old son Max spent a week at a resort in Puerta Vallarta, Mexico and were due to fly home on Feb. 25.

But then things started to unravel. As they were getting ready for their flight they got an email from WestJet saying their flight was delayed. It was soon followed by a second email saying their flight was now cancelled and to await further emails for new flight information.

But then there was email silence.

“We were kind of freaking out,” said Leigh, who owns Red Deer Overdoor, which her husband manages.

The only WestJet flight she could line up left two days later and would have cost the family $4,000 per person.

“I looked everywhere for as long as I could. Then, I looked each day, hoping something would come up and be available. But nothing came up.”

In the meantime, her all-inclusive resort package had expired and to stay on would have cost $1,400 a night. They scrambled and managed to get a $500 a night room at another resort.

She finally found a $1,770 Flair flight that left on Wednesday, but it landed in Edmonton at 12:30 a.m. Thursday, not in Calgary where their truck was parked. At one point, the couple briefly considered, then rejected, the prospect of renting a car and driving six hours in the dark to Mazatlan to try to get a flight from there.

Later, checking her WestJet app by chance she discovered, the airline had booked her family on a Feb. 25 flight to Montreal. The connecting flight to Toronto and then on to Calgary would have been on Wednesday, four days later.

“This is ridiculous, to tell us to go to Montreal for four days?” sums up her reaction.

Mark took a cab to the airport to tell WestJet staff they were not taking that flight because of the four-day layover. They offered to pay for a hotel, but the family already had the second resort booked. They were told to keep those receipts.

A friend picked up her husband and son and took them to Red Deer when the finally arrived back in Alberta. Leigh grabbed a $400 flight to Calgary to get their truck.

Hours later, she and was back at work, tired and four days late — and at least so far — out $2,000 in unplanned hotel bills and about $2,000 in unplanned flights.

She booked through Expedia and last she heard they were talking to WestJet to refund her money and cover at least part of her unexpected expenses. WestJet’s website says it covers only up to $3,000 if it ends up being them paying.

Leigh counts herself as a WestJet supporter and has never had any notable problems before. In fact, she plans to fly with them four more times in the coming two months to visit her parents in Phoenix.

“We’ll give them these two more chances, for sure, because I really haven’t had a ton of problems with them.”

But as a loyal customer — she even booked her trip with a WestJet MasterCard — she expects them to step up and make this right.

The whole experience was stressful and she wonders how others on her flight managed to get home and how it affected their jobs. Her staff stepped up and covered for her and Mark, who was able to participate in an important meeting by Zoom while stranded.

For other travellers, there is not a lot of advice she can offer.

“Definitely be aware that this can happen,” she said. If you use an airline app, check that too regularly if there are problems rather than rely on them to email.

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