Canadian couple 'very frustrated' after WestJet strike, Hurricane Beryl cancels flight home (2024)

After 10-plus years as a loyal WestJet traveller, Jennifer Hewitt says she is swearing off the Canadian airline after a series of unforeseen flight cancellations left her and her husband still stranded in Jamaica.

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“(I’m) very frustrated. I said, 'I'm not coming back to Jamaica for a while, and if I'm flying, it won't be WestJet,'" Hewitt said in a phone interview with CTVNews.ca.

Hewitt, 64, flew to the Caribbean island on June 17 to visit friends and family for vacation and was scheduled to return home to Ajax, Ont., on June 29.

"I did not get a cancellation notice from WestJet, so we came (to the airport in Montego Bay)," Hewitt said.

She dropped off her rental car before making her way inside Sangster International Airport, where she said she learned at the WestJet travel desk that her flight home had been cancelled due to the strike by the airline mechanics union. Though the job action ended Sunday, the disruption cancelled more than 1,100 flights and impacted more than 100,000 travellers.

"Unfortunately, as July long weekend is a peak travel period across Canada, limited availability exists both within our network and through alternative carriers, making options for accommodation extremely challenging," WestJet said in a service update after the strike averted.

For Hewitt, she said she was rescheduled for a departure on Tuesday with American Airlines, which included a seven-hour layover in Miami, Fla. When she returned to the airport for her flight, Hewitt said it was cancelled outright for yet another reason out of the airline's control: Hurricane Beryl.

The storm developed rapidly into a Category 5 hurricane in the Atlantic, but by early Thursday, it reduced to Category 3, though it remains a major hurricane in the area.

According to Hewitt, at the time of Thursday's interview, Montego Bay is "nice and sunny, as though nothing ever happened."

"The only thing is that we have no water, we have no light," she added.

  • Read more:Hurricane Beryl churns toward Mexico after leaving destruction in Jamaica and eastern Caribbean

Beryl grounded WestJet flights in Cancun, Montego Bay and Kingston, with flights suspended until at least this Friday. Sangster International Airport said it will temporarily shutter due to the storm, remaining closed Wednesday. Norman Manley International Airport in Kingston and Ian Fleming International Airport in Ocho Rios are also temporarily closed, but have all since reopened, according to the country's tourism board.

Hewitt and her husband were scheduled on an Air Transat flight Thursday, but due to the airport closures, have been rescheduled to fly out with the airline Friday at around 5:45 p.m.

Each time her flight was cancelled, Hewitt says she was never notified by WestJet – who she says booked all of her subsequent trips – of the flight disruption ahead of time. Additionally, she says it's been difficult to get a hold of them on the phone.

Each time her flights were cancelled, Hewitt says WestJet never warned her of any disruptions ahead of time – despite being the ones who booked the flights.

"I'm blaming WestJet because we originally booked with them … they're not even communicating with us, and I tried to call WestJet several times from where I was staying and no, it's always busy," Hewitt said. "One time I got through, and I spent three hours on the phone only to get cut off."

Canadian couple 'very frustrated' after WestJet strike, Hurricane Beryl cancels flight home (1)Passengers wait as flights continue to be delayed or outright cancelled at Sangster International Airport in Montego Bay, Jamaica on July 4, 2024. (Jennifer Hewitt)

In a statement to CTVNews.ca, WestJet apologized to all travellers impacted by the mechanics strike on June 28.

"Our teams across WestJet are working diligently to support all impacted guests as quickly as possible," the emailed statement reads.

The Calgary-based airline added it has been in compliance with the Air Passenger Protection Regulations, with regards to providing alternate travel arrangements to fliers within 48 hours of the flight cancellation.

"If this is not possible, guests are entitled to request a refund to their original form of payment," the airline said.

The whole ordeal has set Hewitt back financially, particularly with the number of taxi rides she has taken to and from Montego Bay's airport in hopes of boarding her return flight home. Since she no longer had access to a rental car, she said she paid about $50 in taxi fare to make it back to her relatives – a fare she can no longer afford.

"The taxi, I got to know him, so he'll wait until I go back to Toronto and send him his money. I haven't been paying him because I have no money," Hewitt explained, pointing to the unexpected days off work and the need to pay her bills as part of the reason she cannot currently afford the fare.

Hewitt hopes WestJet will be able to cover the costs that she has incurred during her imposed extended stay in Jamaica.

"I'm just so upset with WestJet because of the way they treated me," Hewitt said. "(P)eople came on Monday and the airline wasn't flying, but then they got to go on Tuesday, and I'm like, 'We've been here since Saturday. Why aren't we going?'"

Travel advisories in place

Fliers are advised to avoid all non-essential travel to Jamaica due to Hurricane Beryl, according to an advisory last updated shortly after noon on July 4. Global Affairs Canada is also urging Canadians to avoid all travel to Haiti and non-essential travel to Union Island in Saint Vincent and the Grenadines, Carriacou and Petite Martinique in Grenada, and to the east coast of Yucatan Peninsula from Cabo Catoche to Chetumal, including Cozumel, as a result of the storm.

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A global affairs spokesperson told CTVNews.ca that there are 1,857 registered Canadians in Jamaica and 10,000 in Mexico.

Alberta native Alecia Repp, who has been living in Playa del Carmen for five years, told CTVNews.ca how Beryl is impacting the area and how it compares to other storms.

"I've been through a few hurricanes in this area before, and those ones were actually worse than this,” she said. “Having had those experiences, I'm a little bit more relaxed.”

Repp adds that businesses have boarded up their storefronts and residents have taped over their windows, and all indoor furniture has been brought inside. She said she has stocked up on all her favourite food, water and other essentials to weather the storm.

"I think the main thing that I've learned is just not to panic, and if you stay calm and prepare yourself like we've been preparing for a few days now, it won't be that bad," Repp said.

To Canadians abroad still attempting to return home, Global Affairs Canada advises staying up to date with travel advisories, signing up for the Canadians Abroad service, communicating with family and friends about the situation and staying up-to-date on local news for the latest forecasts.

With files from Sarah Plowman and The Associated Press

Canadian couple 'very frustrated' after WestJet strike, Hurricane Beryl cancels flight home (2024)
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