Updated: Oct 29, 2018
After a seemingly infinite number of issues with the ultra-low-cost carrier Swoop Airlines, Cassandra Fata warns all fellow travellers to avoid this company at all costs. After all, you wouldn't want your vacation experience turning into horror story, just like hers did.
A few months ago, my cousin won a contest for a return flight with Swoop (a Canadian ultra-low-cost carrier, owned by WestJet). This had been really exciting, as I had wanted to come visit her for her birthday at the end of August and these tickets had given me the perfect opportunity to do so. I had originally booked my flight to arrive toward the end of August, to Hamilton, Ontario from Edmonton, Alberta. The day before my flight was scheduled to leave, I checked-in online and showed up to the baggage drop-off area by the designated time indicated on the Swoop mobile app… It had said to arrive at least forty-five minutes before the scheduled flight time, so I arrived and got in line by that time.
However, when I got to the front desk, there were two people working it; one was helping check-in passengers who were in front of me in line. The second woman was busy taking photos of the Swoop check-in area and of herself for social media (it seemed) than to assist with the other people in line – namely, me. Despite there being this delay and people still in line, the attendants shut down the luggage check-in booth and said to me, “We can't serve you, the system shuts down at 8:55am.” It was 9:03, I had been waiting in line for quite some time, and they had been working up to this point. She also told me that the return ticket booked for my return flight at the very end of August was no longer valid, either. Frantically, I called my cousin who was waiting for me in Toronto (and was supposed to pick me up) and explained what happened. She called Swoop’s parent company, WestJet, and they said that they couldn’t help her, but that they knew they did not have this policy in place for their specific airline (WestJet airline, that is).
Time was short, I only had a set amount of vacation days, and I was not in the mood to have an argument so early in the morning. I decided to just drop it and pay a small fee, as most airlines have, to catch the next available flight. However, when I asked the attendant to book me on this, the women at the front desk said that their computers shut off and they could not let me on, nor book me on the next flight.
The next thing they said left me absolutely speechless: “If you leave your luggage behind and run, you still might make your flight”. Leave my luggage behind in the airport and run? Really, Swoop?
After some probing as to what can be done, they flippantly handed me a customer service number to call. Of course, in the epitome of inconvenience, I was flying out on a Sunday and their offices are closed on this day. There was no one to help me, no one to contact.
Then, as they walked away, another airline employee came forward and asked me what had happened. Frustrated and upset, I explained the entire story to him, and he said that what the ladies had told me was untrue, and that they could have still checked me in (basically, that they didn’t want to help me).
With all of my things packed and my family expecting me in Toronto, I was left with no choice but to book a new flight out, which left the next day at 1:00am. I was unexpectedly out of $550 one-way, plus additional baggage fees. This could have been dealt with so much sooner and more efficiently if their customer service centre was open on Sundays. Truly, it makes sense that should be open all days that a company offers flights, for situations like these, where on-site employees refuse to be helpful or point customers in the right direction. While this was all underway, my cousin reached out via email to Swoop and two days later, finally got a response. At this point, I was already in Toronto visiting with my family.
The customer service agent responded asking to set up a phone call to discuss our concerns, to which my cousin quickly replied to. After speaking on the telephone, the agent said she wanted to speak with me over the phone (I had been visiting with other family during these days and let my cousin know which times were best for me).
She then told my cousin that she would call me at noon Toronto time the next day, as I had requested. It wasn’t until two hours after the scheduled time that I finally got a call; she told me that she had lost track of time.
I explained the situation to her once again, reiterating what had happened. She explained that I was given wrong information: they could have helped me check in, my return flight was still valid, and so forth. Toward the end of the conversation, she asked me if I felt confident that I made the check-in cut-off time. I told her that I was confident that I was there on time, and that I should have been taken onto the flight. She told me that the best that she could do is refund the baggage fees for the flights, and offered a $50 travel voucher, valid for only ninety days, towards my next Swoop flight. Upset by this horrible experience and knowing that I will never fly with Swoop again, I declined the latter offer. She then told me that she would follow up with my cousin, who was the original person to call.
She received an email shortly after our call ended, telling her that she would send her a recap of the call later that day. It seems that once again, this employee “lost track of time” and sent the promised email a day later. Apparently, she forgot the conversation after having waited so long to send it, as she seemed to have falsely recalled me saying “by [my] own admission [I] state[d] that [I] was in line at 9:03am, and was at that time told the counter was closed and they could no longer check [me] in”.
In this same email though, she admitted that the Swoop employees at the Edmonton Airport had given her false information. She said: “What I told Casandra is that while the agents followed correct process in denying boarding, they gave her the incorrect information. They told her the flight automatically closes and they cannot check travellers in after it is closed. Technically, they are correct that we do not open the flight to check travellers in after it has been closed, but the flight does not automatically close. The agent has to manually close the flight.”
She also admitted that, “[t]here were also some other errors by the Swoop agents – they advised the return flights were no longer valid, they handed out the contact center number but did not advise we are closed on Sundays. From what Cassandra shared, they were not sympathetic to her situation and they did not try to help her get on another flight.” It was then that my cousin had to push further for compensation for the flight I had to book due to Swoop’s mess-up, and finally got a mere 50% back from the flight I had to book with Air Canada to get to Toronto (which, by the way, was a great flight!).
Think this horror story ends here? I wish it did.
Flash forward to the day of my return flight with Swoop. After driving from Oshawa in rush hour to get to Hamilton for 10:30am (to be there ninety minutes before the 12:30pm flight), I received an email about halfway there, stating that the flight had been delayed six hours.
Under the assumption that most guests flying with Swoop are coming from outside of Hamilton (a suburb city over an hour from downtown Toronto at the best of times) and have longer distances to travel, especially during rush hour, the airline should take into consideration this fact. A couple hours’ notice prior to having to arrive at the airport is certainly not enough time.
As the agent asserted repeatedly on the phone when we spoke (as an excuse for Swoop’s original issues), their airline is a small one and “every minute counts” – she made mention time and time again that delays cannot be accommodated. We were consequently alarmed to see how untrue this statement was when arriving at the airport for me to come home.
I had to wait until 10:00am (for when the call centre opened at 8:00am MST), then called the Swoop number -- thankfully it was a Tuesday, so they were actually open this time around. Unfortunately, just because they're open, doesn't mean that you'll be able to speak to an agent. I waited on the phone for over twenty minutes, only to hear a recorded message that another flight leaving from Edmonton had been delayed, and was rescheduled for the next day. There was no information about my flight's delay.
When an airline only has four planes (as of mid-March 2018, as per a press release on their website) and two of them are delayed at a given time, it's evident that I can expect issues with this airline 50% of the time.
Because my cousins had to return to Toronto due to a family emergency, they couldn’t wait around with me at the airport for the six hours I was made to wait. To make matters worse, a mere $10 food voucher was offered for the incredibly long delay, and this was only after I probed for some sort of compensation for the lost time; during this time, I had to wait alone in the waiting area, with no one to watch my luggage when I had to make a bathroom break. Naturally, I was forced to hold it in and wait until I checked my bags and get through security. It was another stressor on top of an already awful situation. Even passengers I spoke to were expressing their distaste for the company, all of whom were travelling with Swoop for the first time and said they would never fly with them again.
With this all said, I was told to return to the check-in desk at 3:00pm (thanks to the delay). Other passengers were told this as well. However, when returning at the designated time, our group of passengers were then told by that same employee that we had to wait until 3:35pm. Yet another delay.
At 3:35pm, I was finally allowed to check-in my luggage and went through security. When I made it through at around 4:15pm, the little food bar on the other side was completely sold out of hot food. At the same moment, I noticed that I received an email from Swoop saying that the flight was delayed an additional forty minutes. In truth, what was (after all these reported delays) supposed to be a flight taking off at 7:10pm, only started taxing at 7:32pm.
I was livid, I was tired, I was done with this airline.
That same afternoon (a Tuesday), after sitting on the phone waiting for an agent to pick up for over fifty-five minutes, my cousin was referred to send her complaint to a customer service email address; she was told that they check their emails every hour on the hour. She sent it out right after getting off the phone. Even after a week went by, neither the original email nor its follow-up inquiry had been acknowledged. The least they could do was acknowledge that it had been received and that they were working on a solution. This just cemented what we all already knew: Swoop Airlines doesn't care a shred about their passengers.
I have flown with airlines and have never had such a terrible experience. Swoop is by far the worst of them all.
UPDATE (Sept. 5, 2018): Swoop responded to my cousin's third email follow-up yesterday morning, saying that her "email was missed by [their] team", but that it had been "sent this off to [their] management team asking for an immediate proposal and response". It has now been over 24 hours, with no acknowledgement from management.
UPDATE (Sept. 6, 2018): After over 24 hours of waiting, Swoop Airlines finally replied with an excuse ("an ill crew member") and an apology ("We value feedback such as yours as this allows us to recognize where we can improve and possibly need to provide further training"), and no offer of compensation for the time lost nor the stress caused. As well, proving once again that they did not read the email thoroughly in which they were asked to reference the previous incident, they also added: "We trust this was an isolated experience". I'm so disappointed... they clearly do not want to reconcile this any further. Nonetheless, my cousin emailed back stating that this was not an isolated event and is looking for a solution to the problem.
UPDATE (Sept. 7, 2018): They responded, saying the last issue was resolved. In regards to the return flight dilemma, all they had to say was: "The delay that Cassandra incurred was due to a cancelled flight due to a crew member being too ill to travel and we were not able to replace the crew member in time to remain on schedule. As soon as we were made aware of the delay we notified all the travellers as quickly as possible" and "this will be a learning opportunity for leadership team to follow up". My cousin did not bother responding to this, as it's clear they are not interested in helping (which was pretty clear from the get-go).
*Be sure to follow Cassandra on Instagram.*