Passengers stuck after BC Ferries sold reservations for non-existent sailing on holiday Monday

Jennifer Gagnon had vehicle reservations on a ferry sailing leaving Pender Island for Tsawwassen at 11:40 a.m. Monday.

Or so she thought.

It turned out Gagnon was one of dozens of customers who booked a trip leaving the Southern Gulf Islands at the end of the holiday long weekend only to find out after arriving at the terminal that BC Ferries had sold rides for a sailing that did not exist.

BC Ferries has since apologized online and by email to customers who had purchased reservations for the sailing, which had been scheduled online to pick up passengers on Salt Spring Island and Pender Island and take them to the Lower Mainland. 

“We sincerely apologize to our customers impacted by the scheduling error between Tsawwassen, Pender Island, and Salt Spring Island today,” said the email Gagnon received on Monday evening.

Gagnon told CBC she booked her trip online about two months ago and had received a confirmation email just days before the boat was scheduled to depart. She was in a hurry to return to the Lower Mainland to see her mother, who had just undergone sudden cardiac surgery.

Paid in full — twice.

Told by ferry workers on Pender Island the boat was not coming, she managed to make the journey later that day from Pender Island to Swartz Bay on Vancouver Island and, from there, back to Tsawwassen.

But Gagnon said she had to shell out full price again to get on board the latter sailing, despite showing the ticket attendant in Swartz Bay that she had already paid for a trip to Tsawwassen online.

She said the whole experience was an “utter shock.”

“I’ve been travelling with BC Ferries for over 30 years … and I have never encountered an issue like this before,” said Gagnon. “We actually paid twice for the lack of service.”

It was not until after 5 p.m. Monday that Gagnon received an email saying she would be refunded.

“We appreciate your patience and apologize for any inconvenience experienced as a result of this error,” read the email.

On the other side of the Salish Sea shortly before Gagnon realized she had no ride, Judith Barnett had expected to be on a 9:10 a.m. sailing leaving Tsawwassen.

Customers were expecting that vessel to then pick up Gulf Islands passengers and make the return trip back.

But there was no boat for Barnett.

“Some people were getting very agitated as you can imagine,” said Barnett, adding there were many people stuck who had children and pets.

She said staff at the terminal were not to blame but also could not provide any explanation. She too, like Gagnon, had to pay full fare when she was able to get on a later sailing.

“Somebody should just have said sorry,” said Barnett.

Social media lit up Monday as other customers in similar situations to Gagnon and Barnett expressed their frustration.

The company posted on its Twitter account that the Aug. 2 sailings had been incorrectly built into its reservation system.

BC Ferries spokesperson Deborah Marshall confirmed on CBC Radio on Tuesday morning that a system glitch caused the mishap.

Marshall noted the weekend was very busy for ferry traffic and called the situation “really unfortunate.”

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