WestJet’s $30 US checked bag fee for some flights has angered many passengers, and now at least two customers have managed to get their money back.
They got a full refund after pointing out an error on their e-ticket receipt. It stated the $30 fee would be charged in Canadian — not U.S. dollars. Now they want WestJet to initiate refunds for all affected customers.
“Are they thinking it’s not going to come out?” said Peter Lawson, who got a refund for all his checked baggage fees on a round trip after flagging the mistake.
“I’m not the only guy for sure and so I want them to do the right thing for everyone.”
WestJet said it believes a “minimal” number of e-tickets were issued with information that was inconsistent with its current baggage policies. The airline gave no indication it would proactively dole out refunds.
“It’s utterly foolish for them not to have done the right thing,” said Lawson, who lives in Toronto.
Bag fee confusion
For bookings made after Aug. 28, WestJet now charges its $30 checked bag fee in U.S. dollars for return flights from the U.S., Latin America and the Caribbean.
The fee, which totals about $40 Cdn, has upset many passengers who feel it’s a “cash grab.” WestJet says its fees are competitive and allow the airline to unbundle services to keep airfares low.
Passengers have also complained they were caught off-guard by the charge. WestJet said it updated its airline tariff and website when the new rules took effect.
Lawson learned about the U.S. fee from a CBC story, but when he checked his e-ticket receipt before his trip to Barbados, he figured that the airline had backtracked. That’s because it said the cost would be “$30 CAD” to check a bag for each flight.
“I thought, ‘Well, this is good. They’ve seen the light.'”
However, Lawson and his wife were still charged $60 US — $79 CAD — to check two bags for their flight home on Feb. 18.
He complained to WestJet the next day, citing the information on his receipt. He said the airline apologized and immediately offered the refund.
But that wasn’t good enough for Lawson, who believes WestJet should check its records and compensate all affected passengers.
“They sent it to you in writing. That’s what they’re obligated to charge you and it’s wrong that they would overcharge you.”
On Feb. 23, he sent a letter to WestJet CEO Ed Sims stating his case. A customer service specialist replied. She acknowledged the error, but wouldn’t commit to proactively offering refunds.
“We will continue to work with our guests who are affected by this,” she told Lawson in an email.
Toronto-based aviation lawyer Ehsan Monfared said WestJet isn’t required to chase down customers.
“There’s no obligation that I can think of from a regulatory perspective or from a legal perspective that obligates WestJet … to proactively go and try to fix this.”
But passenger Lawson believes the airline would have fared better from a public relations perspective if it had jumped on the problem before it hit the news.
“It’s going to come out,” he said. “Everyone will know they don’t have their customers’ interests at heart.”
Last week, passenger Vincent Pigeon of Vancouver also complained to WestJet because his e-ticket receipt said he’d be charged $30 in Canadian funds.
WestJet first rejected his complaint because his e-ticket was issued by a travel rewards program. But Pigeon, a retired lawyer, argued WestJet was still responsible.
“They finally gave up,” he said.
On Friday, the airline credited him the full $30 US fee he paid for checking a bag on his return flight from Phoenix to Vancouver on Jan. 18.
Pigeon, too, believes WestJet should dole out blanket refunds.
“If it’s in the contract, they should just fess up and say, ‘Yeah, we made a mistake here, here’s your money back”
WestJet said it concluded an investigation into the e-ticket issue in February.
“It was discovered that some e-ticket receipts following the policy change may have displayed baggage fee language that was not consistent with our updated tariff, policies and terms and conditions agreed to during the booking [process],” spokesperson Morgan Bell said in an email.
Bell said the airline took immediate action to fix the problem.
Although WestJet started charging the U.S. checked bag fee back in August, she suggested that few passengers received wrong information. She didn’t directly address questions about offering anyone else compensation.
“We believe there were minimal e-tickets issued with the CAD error and we encourage any guests with questions to contact us,” said Bell.
She added that the airline gave Lawson and Pigeon full baggage fee refunds “as a gesture of goodwill.”
Lawson and Pigeon encourage other affected passengers to demand a refund from WestJet.