No, Westjet and American Airlines are not the same company

Thomas Trayer and his family book tickets on WestJet Airlines. When they get to the airport security checkpoint, they’re told that their flight is canceled. They haven’t been able to get a refund for the canceled flight. Can our advocates help?

Question: My daughter, grandson and I booked tickets on WestJet Airlines to travel from Toronto, Canada, to our home in Philadelphia, Pa. When we arrived at the airport security checkpoint, we were told that our flight was canceled. We were instructed to go to our assigned gate, which was an American Airlines gate and talk to one of its agents to determine what to do next.

We got to the gate and there wasn’t anyone there. We went to different terminals and countless gates and still didn’t find any American Airlines agents. It was like they went into hiding. Because we cleared security, we couldn’t leave the area unless accompanied by an agent. We would have been trapped in the airport, but for the help of a WestJet agent who went beyond the call of duty. She called an American agent to come to the secured gate and stayed with us until one arrived. After two phone calls and 25 minutes, an American agent finally appeared. At this point, we had been in the airport for over three hours. It was unbelievable.

The American agent apologized for the inconvenience and explained that the cancellation was weather related, so the airline wouldn’t pay for a hotel. We were told that it would be two-three days before we could be booked on another flight. That was unacceptable. We rented a car and drove through a thunderstorm, arriving home nine hours later at 2:30 a.m. I requested that American refund the cost of the three plane tickets and the rental car, but it hasn’t responded. Needless to say, this was an extremely frustrating situation. Can you help? — Thomas Trayer, Lititz, Pa.

Answer: When your flight was canceled, American Airlines should have had staff available to assist you. You shouldn’t have had to hunt down a representative. But, even more so, WestJet should not have left you stranded alone in the airport to fend for yourself. Although you felt that the WestJet agent went “beyond the call of duty” to assist you, she really didn’t do anything but find you an American agent. You bought your ticket from WestJet and its agent should have tried to get you booked on another flight. It’s troubling that all she did was push your problem onto the American agent and leave.

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You bought the tickets through WestJet that included a codeshare flight with American Airlines. That meant that WestJet sold you three seats on a plane operated by another airline. I see problems that start with WestJet. WestJet took your money and regardless of which airline it booked you on, you were still its customer. When American canceled the flight, WestJet should have worked with American, or another airline, to help you get rebooked. Your problem was still WestJet’s problem to solve. You didn’t realize that and you let the WestJet agent use the codeshare flight as an excuse to renege on her duty to help you.

What made this more confusing was that it was the American Airlines agent who apologized for the inconvenience and tried to help you. So you thought that American Airlines owed you a refund for the cost of the tickets. By the time you contacted us, you had emailed American Airlines and written a letter to its president and had not received a response.

But it wasn’t American who owed you a refund, it was WestJet. It is understandable why this was “an extremely frustrating situation.”

When you contacted us, you requested help in getting American to refund $1470 for the tickets and to reimburse $530 for the rental car. Our advocates explained that airlines are not obligated to repay the costs for alternate travel arrangements. Airlines are only responsible for refunding the costs of the unused tickets. While investigating your case, our advocates realized that because it was a codeshare flight, WestJet owed you a refund, not American.

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You engaged in self-advocacy with American, but not WestJet. Prior to contacting our advocates for help, you could have posted your question to our help forums. Our forums, which are staffed by travel industry experts, and often read by company executives. Our forum advocates would have given you helpful advice and directed you to WestJet for a refund. You could also have tried escalating your complaint by contacting company executives who may have intervened on your behalf. Our website lists WestJet Airlines executive contact information.

Before intervening on your behalf, our advocates suggested that you directly contact WestJet for a refund. Our advocates sent you the link to contact WestJet and if you needed to escalate your complaint, the link for its executive contact information. You contacted WestJet and it agreed to issue a refund for the cost of the tickets. You thanked us for the assistance and told us that without it, you wouldn’t have known what to do. We’re glad that we were able to point you in the right direction.

Diane Perera

Diane and her family love to travel, and they do so as much as they can. Having experienced the downside of travel, and having learned so much from, led Diane to become an advocate and to help fight the good fight. Read more of Diane's articles here.

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