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Calgary-based WestJet is arguing it shouldn’t have to compensate a passenger that filed a complaint with the Canadian Transportation Agency last year about a last-minute flight cancellation prompted by a lack of staff.

While the airline says the cancellation of Owen Lareau’s flight to Toronto from Regina last July was within its control, it argues in court documents that he shouldn’t be entitled to compensation under passenger protection rules because the crew shortage was a safety issue and therefore exempt from such claims.

In a motion filed Aug. 10 with the Federal Court of Appeal in Vancouver, WestJet says its first officer booked off because of illness about one hour before the flight’s departure and the scheduling crew was unable to find an alternate because it does not have a crew base in Regina.

The court must still decide whether to proceed with the appeal.

The airline says without an alternate first officer, the flight’s operation was unsafe, so it rebooked Mr. Lareau to travel the following day and provided him with a hotel stay and meal vouchers.

However, the Canadian Transportation Agency last month ordered the airline to provide Mr. Lareau with the $1,000 fee owed to passengers whose flights have been delayed more than nine hours, ruling that staffing shortages don’t qualify as a safety exemption.

The legal battle comes as airlines including WestJet and Air Canada face criticism for denying compensation to passengers delayed due to staffing shortages on the basis of safety concerns.

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