Gilbert Proulx said he almost couldn’t believe it when he looked at his phone.
He had just landed in Calgary on Sunday afternoon after a flight from Toronto. Proulx, his wife and two sons, 9 and 6, were returning from a trip to the Bahamas.
As the family prepared to dash off the plane to make their final connection to Regina, Proulx received a ping from WestJet.
Due to unscheduled maintenance, their flight had been cancelled, the email said. To get passengers home, ground transportation would be provided.
“I had to do a double take,” said Proulx, a teacher in Regina, in an interview on The Homestretch on Monday.
“I was sitting there, like, is this actually happening right now? You know, you pay good money to these airlines to provide you with transportation, and I’m sitting there, like, this is the best they can do for us right now?”
In an emailed statement to CBC Calgary, Denise Kenny, manager of public relations with WestJet, said the airline apologizes for the disruption to passengers’ travel plans.
“Unfortunately, reaccommodation options were limited due to the high demand for travel over the weekend and significant weather events across Vancouver and Vancouver Island, which caused compounding operational impacts and limited aircraft availability,” the statement read.
“In order to best support impacted guests in reaching their destination as quickly as possible, ground transportation was arranged to provide an immediate travel option for those who were unable to wait for an alternative flight option.”
For some passengers, the swap meant a one-hour flight became about an eight-hour bus ride through the night.
Proulx said that after receiving the message, his wife and children went to find some food — which the airline had sent vouchers for — while he scoped out the bus situation. The email instructed passengers to meet at Gate 1 for 4:30 p.m. MT, about a half hour after they’d landed.
“By the time I got there, there was a pile of passengers already kind of just standing around,” he said.
“I was actually really impressed with the overall vibe of a group of passengers being told that this was the only way that they were going to get home.”
Proulx said staff on the ground told him the next available flight to Regina would leave three days later, on March 1.
“They basically said this is your only option. If you want to get home, you need to get on the bus.”
The group left Calgary at about 5 p.m. MT, Proulx said. They took a 10-minute rest stop in Medicine Hat and arrived in Regina at about 1 a.m. MT.
“Part of me is glad I got home,” he said. “But I have such a hard time wrapping my head around that that was their answer. We’re going to put everyone on a bus.”
LISTEN | Gilbert Proulx describes his travel experience on Sunday:
The Homestretch9:30WestJet passengers board a bus to Regina
Chris Henderson, a musician from Regina, got the same email notifying him about the cancelled flight after landing in Calgary from Grande Prairie, Alta. He’d planned to take a connection home from there.
Instead of boarding the bus, he visited the customer service counter, hoping to snag another flight.
Since he was travelling solo, he said he was able to book the only seat left on a WestJet flight to Regina on Monday morning. He said he’ll be trying to get his hotel stay in Calgary reimbursed.
“I know there were a bunch of other people that were looking for alternatives because they were rebooked to fly out on Wednesday or Thursday,” he said.
“It was just kind of a mess.… I’ve never been offered a bus ride from an airline before.”
Proulx said he will be following up with WestJet to try to get a full refund for his family’s trip.
“It was not what we had paid for,” he said. “I’m going to do what I can to make sure that we’re fairly compensated for, I mean, what in my opinion is a really unacceptable thing on an airline’s part.”
He said the airline might’ve helped ease some frustration if it had better communicated with passengers throughout the evening.
“I always like to give people the benefit of the doubt, but I will be hard pressed to book another flight with WestJet.”
The lack of available seats comes after Air Canada cut service between Calgary and Regina and Calgary and Saskatoon, leaving Prairie travellers reliant on WestJet.
However, WestJet said last month it would ramp up service between Alberta’s largest city and Saskatchewan starting Feb. 16, with one more daily flight between Calgary and Regina, amounting to as many as seven flights each day.
It also said it would tack on three more daily flights between Calgary and Saskatoon, totalling up to nine direct flights a day.