Feel good about your information and become a local news champion today

Calgarian pays up to avoid risky travel scenario as WestJet pilot strike looms

Mah said that he's a WestJet Gold member, but those paying regular fares could be stranded or risk paying thousands to get home.

Calgarian Curtis Mah faced the possibility of being stranded in Mexico, with a potential WestJet pilots strike in the coming days.

It cost him extra to avoid any hassle, but he’s worried other potential WestJet passengers might not be so lucky.

On March 31, WestJet pilots authorized a strike vote. On April 18, 95 per cent of WestJet pilots voted on job action and 93 per cent vote in favour of taking job action. They set a deadline of May 16 to come to an agreement, after which the pilots could go on strike, potentially stranding thousands of passengers like Mah.

The main issues that led to the job action being taken included comparable pay to the North American pilot average, scheduling concerns, and working conditions.

Mah was aware that there was a chance of a strike going into the trip, so he decided to fly out to join friends at a bachelor party in Cabo San Lucas a bit earlier. After hearing a potential strike could happen while he was away, Mah sought answers from a WestJet customer service agent.

“I asked clearly, this is something that is out of my hands, I don’t want to go home early, I would love to stay in Mexico, but I can’t afford to be stranded here financially, due to work and other things I have to get done,” he said.

“The response of the customer service representative agent on the end of the phone was basically there’s nothing I’m willing to do, there’s nothing I can do.”

LiveWire Calgary submitted a handful of questions to WestJet surrounding situations like Mah’s. They didn’t respond directly to the questions and instead directed our inquiries to the FAQ page.

The FAQ page states that WestJet is dedicated to avoiding a strike but “is not willing to put the future of the company and 15,000 jobs at risk by agreeing to a contract that isn’t financially viable for the long-term future.”

In the event of a strike, WestJet states that they are putting a contingency plan together to minimize what would result in significant impacts on guest travel but didn’t elaborate on what the details of this plan would look like.

Waiting game for many travellers

The potential strike is causing much uncertainty, and for Mah, it’s difficult sitting around waiting to see what will happen.

“I said, if they call a strike what are my options, and he (the customer service agent) goes you have to wait until they call a strike and then call us. So basically said I will be stranded in Mexico and then I can call you, and he goes yes,” Mah said.

Being a WestJet gold member gives Mah more options for getting out of this situation, but other people might face more roadblocks trying to get home, according to Mah.

“I phoned in, and they have no accommodations for guests due to the strike. I’m actually a WestJet Gold member, so I’m a frequent flyer, and luckily I paid more for my flight that allows changes, but you’re basically stranded here if they strike,” Mah said.

Mah said people with hotel reservations, car rentals and more tied up in their vacations have little recourse.

After calling back multiple times and getting hung up on, Mah paid an extra $300 for an early flight home. He said waiting until the strike happens and potentially racking up thousands of dollars in fees was far too risky.

“Never mind the accommodations can rack up into the thousands, you might be paying thousands and thousands of dollars extra with WestJet not helping you and there’s no more direct flights home,” Mah said.

“You might be going through the States with United (Airlines) or another airline at $2,000 or $3,000,” Mah said.

Matrix ITA, which is a popular software owned by Google, searches through multiple airlines to find the cheapest ticket options available.

For available flights on Matrix ITA from SJD (Cabo San Lucas airport) to YYC (Calgary International Airport) the cheapest current option for Friday, May 12 (which is through United Airlines), is $2,750, with approximately six hours being added to the travel time with layovers and plane switches.

The cheapest option on Saturday, May 13, is the same as Fridays, in terms of price, airline and travel time. For Sunday, May 14, you would be looking at a whopping $7,678, with 15 extra hours of travel time (this flight is through WestJet).