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A Howie Centre woman says she didn’t have to leave the ground to encounter some airline turbulence.
On Tuesday, Paula Hines learned about airport deadlines the hard way, after being denied boarding for her WestJet flight to Toronto, after arriving at the airport five minutes past the check-in deadline.
Hines, 67, was booked on a 5:45 a.m. flight to Halifax with a connecting flight to Toronto. She said she arrived 40 minutes before her plane’s departure.
“I went up to the agent and she said, ‘You’re too late for that flight,’” Hines said.
“There was no one around at all.”
Hines said she was shocked to hear that and told the agent there were still 40 minutes until the flight departure. She explained her daughter was getting married in Toronto and her future son-in-law’s parents had flown in from India and were to meet her Tuesday. A family gathering had been planned for Wednesday.
“I was crying,” Hines, said. “I was begging. That’s not easy for me to do. There was no understanding on their part at all.”
According to the WestJet website, passengers on flights within Canada are advised to check in at least 90 minutes before their flight departure. The cut-off for check-ins is 45 minutes before departure, including if done online, at a kiosk or through assistance with a WestJet employee.
But then, Hines said, the agent informed her she could get on the plane without her luggage. However, Hines was told her bags couldn’t be left with the airline or security. She said abandoning her suitcase wasn’t an option as her laptop was in it, along with everything for the wedding and her medication.
“I would have just had to leave it sitting there in the airport where anyone could take it anytime.”
She asked if her luggage could be put on a later WestJet flight but was told that wasn’t an option either.
Hines said they didn’t even try to get her on another flight. Although she had a return ticket, the agent told her “all your money is gone now. You lost all your money, it’s gone.”
Hines then talked to the nearby Air Canada agents, who she said were compassionate, assisting her in searching out the cheapest ticket possible online for Wednesday.
“The lady from Air Canada knew what was going on, she came and gave me a little hug.”
Tuesday afternoon, Hines was found in her Howie Centre home on her laptop, her electric fireplace blazing — and her suitcase still packed.
Hines said her sister and family are flying out Wednesday and she’ll be on the same flight as them.
A soft-spoken woman, Hines retired in 2006 after 37 years as a social worker. She has a part-time job sitting with patients at nursing homes and hospitals that she says doesn’t pay much but it enables her to save money to travel with. Hines said she has traveled the world over the past 14 years, has been in many major airports. She said, being a frequent flyer, she knows the Sydney airport is quiet early in the morning and normally she arrives under an hour before her flights there.
Hines said she purchased the ticket back in January during a flight sale for $400 return.
It appears Hines will have to buy a new return ticket. Morgan Bell, communications representative with WestJet, confirmed Hines had a basic ticket fare. Bell said basic tickets allow WestJet to provide passengers with the lowest fares without added features or flexibility. The basic fare is not eligible for refund, exchange or name changes should the passenger’s travel plans require cancellation, changing or in the instance a guest misses their flight. If the plans are interrupted for operational reasons, WestJet does make the same effort to re-accommodate all passengers regardless of their ticket.
Bell said although basic fares are relatively new to Canada — paying for the options you want — WestJet ensures throughout the booking flow that passengers are aware of the restrictions before purchasing their ticket.
As far as Hine’s situation, Bell said it’s certainly never their intention to disappoint any of their guests.
“It’s unfortunate in this instance a guest was unable to complete their travel due to arriving at the airport past WestJet’s check-in and baggage cut-off times.”
Bell said they don’t keep statistics so are unable to say how often this does occur. Although domestic flight check-in and baggage drop cut-off times are 45 minutes before schedule departure online or at the airport kiosk, they recommend guests traveling in Canada arrive 90 minutes prior to departure for ample time to check-in, drop off baggage and proceed through security screening. If a passenger doesn’t have checked baggage, has already checked in and has their boarding passes, they recommend arriving at the boarding gate at least 40 minutes prior to departure, as all gates close 10 minutes prior to scheduled departure.
In an email response, Isabelle Arthur, communications representative with Air Canada, said check-in and boarding times are critical to the on-time departure and, more importantly, the on-time arrival of their flights. She said online check-in is simply the best way to check in for a flight. A passenger can even print a boarding pass as early as 24 hours before a flight, check-in at an airport kiosk up to 12-hours in advance and print their own baggage tags at airports across Canada, the U.S. and at London’s Heathrow.
Arthur said customers sometimes question the need to arrive so early for check-in and boarding. She said a lot that goes into making sure a flight leaves on time, including ensuring an aircraft and crew are ready to leave at the scheduled departure time.
As well, Arthur said, it gives passengers time needed to pass through multiple security screening points, a fact of life in today's airports that often takes significant time.
Both airlines said that any information that customers need, including boarding and check-in times, can be found on their websites.
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