STORY CONTINUES BELOW THESE SALTWIRE VIDEOS
SYDNEY, N.S. — A northern Cape Breton woman and her family’s hopes of flying to Florida to visit Walt Disney World were grounded after being unexpectedly bumped from their flight out of Halifax.
But more harrowing for Robynne King was how she, her husband and family members said they were treated by WestJet representatives.
“We came home on Christmas Day when the airline couldn’t make any reasonable attempt to get us to Orlando,” said King, a schoolteacher from South Harbour in the Cape Breton highlands.
King said the family trip to Disney World was supposed to take place in 2019. The trip was already paid in full but cancelled due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Fortunately, they recouped their losses and rebooked this past June for a trip set to happen just before Christmas Day.
With tickets in hand, the family plus relatives planned to fly out of Halifax Stanfield International Airport en route to Orlando, Fla. King said there were no advanced warnings of any imminent changes to their travel plans.
“We left the day before our flight and got a hotel, so that we could fly out on Dec. 23,” King said. “The rest of our family met us at the airport on the 23rd. We got to the airport at noon, three hours before our flight out — and everything seemed fine.”
Once they checked their bags and cleared security, the families waited patiently at their designated gate’s seating area eager to board their flight, said King.
Four hours waiting
And waited. And waited some more. “We were sitting there for four hours in total,” King said. “Then someone came on the PA and said, ‘This flight to Orlando is overbooked by 42 seats. We’re asking for volunteers to give up their seats, and we will compensate you well.’”
King said a few people came forward to give up their seats, “but it was never going to be enough to compensate for 42 people.”
With 12 in their travelling party, King hoped enough of those volunteers would ensure her family members would be able to board their plane.
Then a PA announcer started calling up families, King said. “At first, we thought the families they called up were the ones getting on the aircraft,” she said. “Then we heard, ‘Dixon; party of four’ — which was part of our 12. So my husband and I, and our two kids, got in the line.
“All of a sudden, police and security showed up.”
The rest of King’s family members then approached, to find out what was going on that prompted the police and security presence.
“That’s when they said, ‘McEvoy — party of six, you’re off. Dixon — party of two (that would be my in-laws), you’re off as well. All 12 of us, off the plane.”
And with no reasonable explanation on the protocol for choosing to bump the 12, King said.
Just go home
“We had to go under this WestJet manager named Dave, who at first told us his name was Andrew,” she said. “We then asked him, ‘Well, what do we do know?’ He said he had nothing to do with it, it was coming from top on down. Yet his suggestion to us was that we go home, just go home, said in a very rude, snotty and unbelievable way.
“When that happened, my husband (Omar) lost it, he was so mad. At that point, his kids, my kids and his nephews all were crying. We were all upset. And the WestJet representatives had absolutely zero compassion for us.”
King said the only explanation for the police presence at their plane’s gate was because “they knew things were going to be bad. When they called for the Dixon: party of four, seven officers appeared … almost as an intimidation tactic.”
“Then things got heated and we ended up being escorted out of the airport. The police were behind us, pushing us out like cattle. We had our Maritime Travel representative with us to back up our claims, and they wouldn’t even speak to her.”
Making matters worse, King said, the families could only collect some of their luggage from the airport after a three-hour wait. “Two of our bags are in Florida now,” she said. “And one of them had our Christmas presents in it. We still don’t have those back.”
Devastated and angry, and with nowhere else to go, the families heeded the WestJet representative’s advice and drove back to South Harbour. Once word got out about their ordeal, King said the response from the surrounding communities was nothing short of overwhelming.
“Our North of Smokey community pulled Christmas together for the kids,” she said. “We came home to a turkey dinner and all the fixings, and more gifts than you could ever imagine. The three area schools all rallied together and in four hours even brought in Santa. It makes me very blessed where I lived.”
The Cape Breton Post attempted to reach WestJet media relations for comment but no responses were received by press time Monday.
Tiffany Chase, director of public affairs and marketing with the Halifax International Airport Authority, said she couldn’t comment on specific issues between WestJet and its passengers. But she did say that the airport had experienced some flight delays, cancellations and changes largely due to weather-related matters — including a rain and wind storm that hit the Halifax Regional Municipality Friday night.
In response, King said a larger WestJet aircraft was initially planned to take the families to Orlando, “but that plane was stuck in Toronto, so the one that did fly out of Halifax to Florida was a much smaller one. Still, if that was the case, I don’t understand why no one told us if they knew that information well ahead of time.”
‘I’ll believe it when I see it’
As for any financial reimbursement from being bumped, King said the airline had told her she would receive $2,400 per person as compensation. “That (could be) almost $50,000,” King told the Post. “(But) after all that we just went through, I’ll believe it when I see it.”
Ian Nathanson is a political reporter at the Cape Breton Post. Follow him on Twitter at @CBPost_Ian.