Airline passengers have been through the mill in 2022, with airports in chaos during the summer, and pre-Christmas snowstorms cancelling multiple flights in December.

But you don’t have to be stranded for days in a foreign airport to feel that the travel industry has treated you badly. Even lost luggage and unresponsive officials can take the joy out of a vacation that’s been long anticipated and saved up for.

Take the experience of P. Jane Jewson, a Waterloo woman who went on a trip to Cancun with her family, only to have her luggage lost, no ability to communicate with the airline, and — once the luggage was found — personal items missing.

A representative from WestJet said the company “sincerely apologize for the impact this caused” to Jewson.

Jewson had planned a week-long family trip to a luxury resort in Cancun, Mexico, to celebrate the birthday of her husband, Tim. The couple travelled over the Christmas holidays with their three children, their partners, and two-year-old grandchild.

Jewson flew out on a WestJet flight from Pearson International Airport in Toronto on Christmas Day. In her checked luggage she’d stashed some T shirts she’d had specially made for a family photo. They said “Team Tim.”

But when they arrived at Cancun, Jewson’s suitcase was not there. Dozens of other passengers were in the same situation, and she reported it at the airport.

“They said they would email us, our luggage would be coming the next day and it would get delivered to the resort,” Jewson said.

But the promised emails and luggage deliveries never came.

Jewson spent hours each day on the phone at her hotel, fruitlessly trying to reach WestJet. She would wait on hold at the number she had been given. After about 30 minutes, she would be disconnected and had to try again. She spoke to other guests at the resort who were going through the same thing.

Jewson, an experienced traveller, had taken most of her essentials in her carry-on luggage, but said losing her clothes, other personal items, and the special T-shirts — not to mention the constant worry — had greatly diminished her vacation experience.

“It takes the shine off the whole thing,” she said. “It’s not what you bargained for, not what you paid for.”

As they prepared to return home Jan. 1, Jewson got to the Cancun airport early in order to ask one more time about the lost luggage.

Finally, a WestJet official took her to a large storage area inside the airport. To Jewson’s astonishment, she was led to a big room filled with “thousands” of pieces of luggage and was told to check for hers.

She did eventually find it and noticed that it was unzipped. Then she discovered that many of her personal items had been taken, including several dresses and footwear, a pair of prescription sunglasses, and the celebratory T-shirts.

Once she returned to Toronto, she reported the theft and put in a claim for $1,100.

She also thinks WestJet should be held accountable for its lack of communication.

“It’s unacceptable,” Jewson said.

WestJet representative Denise Kenny said in an email: “Throughout the holidays, our baggage teams across our network worked as quickly as possible to sort through the delivery of baggage after the facility issues that impacted baggage handling at the Greater Toronto Airport Authority (GTAA) and the large backlog of cancellations experienced over the holidays.

As a result of these issues, there were “high volumes of delayed luggage arriving to Cancun” and “baggage arriving in Cancun was delayed further by required customs screenings,” she said.

“Unfortunately, airlines do not have access to baggage until it has been processed by customs which was significantly delayed during this time.”

Kenny said: “We sincerely apologize to Ms. Jewson again for the impact this experience has caused.”

What happened to Jewson is not nearly as problematic as being stranded in a foreign country for days after a flight was cancelled, as has happened to many other people.

But it’s another indication of a troubled airline industry that is crying out for more regulation and reforms to protect its passengers.

Sure, you can blame the cancelled flights suffered by many on a combination of peak travel volumes and bad weather that hit the whole country. Flights are hard to rebook when there’s no room on other planes. Airlines are also suffering from thinly stretched resources and inexperienced staff as they emerge from the pandemic.

But none of that explains why Jewson had to wait a week for her luggage without even a phone call or an email to keep her informed. Or why her possessions were not kept secure from theft. These problems have nothing to do with the weather or how many airplanes are available.

Businesses sometimes take their customers’ money and give them an experience that’s far short of what they were promised. Making it right is key to the sense of trust between both parties that allows these transactions to continue.

Omar Alghabra, the federal minister of transportation, has promised legislation enacting tougher rules governing the rights of passengers and airline behaviour. This will likely be introduced in the spring. When these new rules come, they should also include greater respect for a passenger’s possessions and the right to timely communication about them when they are misplaced.

This column has been updated from the original version that was printed in Monday’s paper. The response from WestJet has been added.

Luisa D’Amato is a Waterloo Region-based staff columnist for The Record. Reach her via email: [email protected]

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