WestJet customers were rebooked on a seven-and-a-half-hour bus trip from Calgary to Regina after their afternoon flight was cancelled Sunday.
Passengers said they were informed less than three hours before boarding that the one-hour flight between the two cities had been cancelled and that they could reach their destination via "ground transportation" that would have them arrive in Regina after midnight.
Jeff Mathieson, a farmer who was returning from a vacation in Mexico with his wife and two young children, tried unsuccessfully to rent a car before accepting the 750-kilometre bus trip.
"We were quite shocked to hear that we were going to be returning to Regina on a bus and not a plane," he said in a social media message, adding that the next available flight was late Wednesday night.
Told to gather near the WestJet check-in counter at 4 p.m., the family did not board the bus until an hour later and wound up arriving home in Saskatchewan after 2 a.m.
"I do understand that we made it to our destination, but with the prices we are having to pay for travel these days we should be able to expect a certain level of service."
WestJet said in an email it sincerely apologizes to guests affected by the cancellation, which it attributed to "unscheduled aircraft maintenance."
"Unfortunately, reaccommodation options were limited due to the high demand for travel over the weekend and significant weather events across Vancouver and Vancouver Island which caused compounding operational impacts and limited aircraft availability," Denise Kenny, a spokeswoman for the airline, said in an email.
"In order to best support impacted guests in reaching their destination as quickly as possible, ground transportation was arranged to provide an immediate travel option for those who were unable to wait for an alternative flight option."
WestJet saw eight per cent of its Sunday flights cancelled and nearly half delayed, according to tracking service FlightAware.
Chris Henderson, a musician returning from a gig, wound up paying for a Calgary hotel after managing to rebook on a next-day flight.
"The last four times in a row that I had to connect in Calgary I've missed my connection and had to stay overnight. But they've never offered me a bus ride before," he said, qualifying that some cancellations were with other airlines.
"If I pay for a steak, don't give me a hot dog."
After all the travel chaos this past summer and winter holidays, Henderson said he now always travels the day before a show for fear of delays or cancellations. He also missed a substitute teaching opportunity in Regina on Monday due to the rebooking, he said.
As for the hotel, he said a guest services agent told him to submit the receipt rather than wait in line to request a hospitality voucher "'because it's such a gong show right now.'"
The lack of available seats comes after Air Canada cut service between Calgary and Regina and Calgary and Saskatoon, leaving Prairie travellers reliant on WestJet.
However, WestJet said last month it would ramp up service between Alberta's largest city and Saskatchewan starting Feb. 16, with one more daily flight between Calgary and Regina, amounting to as many as seven flights each day.
It also said it would tack on three more daily flights between Calgary and Saskatoon, totalling up to nine direct flights a day.
This report by The Canadian Press was first published Feb. 27, 2023.
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Christopher Reynolds, The Canadian Press