Airlines aren’t always totally forthcoming the reasons that their flights are delayed or cancelled. For instance,
- United used to regularly list weather as the reason for delays on its united.com website but provide the real reason in writing at unitedcargo.com.
- WestJet actually told customers that they were cancelling flights because their destination airports were closed, when those airports were not closed.
Copyright: dennizn / 123RF Stock Photo
Airlines have an incentive to blame factors beyond their control for delays. If the cause is weather, air traffic control, or a similar issue they’re going to owe customers a lot less (if anything at all) compared to when a delay is ‘controllable’ or their fault — such as when a flight goes mechanical or when crew simply don’t show up. (EU rules are somewhat stricter.)
Customers can be sitting at their home airport and will get frustrated when they’re delayed by weather only to look out the window at blue skies, knowing weather is clear at their destination. I like United’s effort to notify customers of the reasons for delays in clear language, explaining for instance that weather is causing a delay in the city where the aircraft is coming from.
Any weather anywhere, of course, becomes the reason for delay. It’s an interesting theory of causality the likes of which I remember debating extensively as a college freshman (I was partial to a necessary element of a sufficient set approach).
Last week my flight from Austin to Chicago on American was delayed five hours.
- The aircraft was in Austin
- There were no mechanical issues
- Weather in Austin and Chicago were clear
- But we had no crew
The reason for the delay was weather (not crew availability) because our crew was inbound from Dallas Fort-Worth where weather was bad. That’s true as far as it goes, though if American were serious about improving on-time performance they’d return to assigning crew to travel with aircraft so delays of a single flight don’t cascade across multiple flights later in the day.
WestJet went far beyond just calling anything possible weather. They just made up excuses not to take care of customers out of whole cloth.
In 2017, WestJet cancelled two of her flights from Toronto to Turks and Caicos, scheduled for Sept. 9 and Nov. 15.
The cancellations affected many WestJet passengers, who received refunds, but often had to pay extra to rebook trips on other airlines in order to salvage their travel plans.
Following a CBC News investigation in late 2017, WestJet revealed that it didn’t cancel the flights due to airport closures — as it had told passengers. Instead, the cancellations were a “business decision,” made after both Turks and Caicos and Santa Clara had been hit by Hurricane Irma and were attracting fewer tourists
The Canadian Transportation Agency gave WestJet ‘a formal warning’ over the falsehood, but didn’t require that they compensate passengers who were forced to buy more expensive tickets to complete their journey. Five individuals filing complaints with the agency fared better with compensation from the airline.