Connect with us

Métis Nation Saskatchewan Business Magazine | Sask Métis News | Métis Nation Entrepreneurs

Métis Nation Saskatchewan Business Magazine | Sask Métis News | Métis Nation Entrepreneurs

‘It was hell’: Stranded air passengers outraged by Sunwing


Entrepreneurs

‘It was hell’: Stranded air passengers outraged by Sunwing

Five days, three hotels, and dozens of phone calls later, Jesse Cody finally arrived home on Tuesday in Prince George, B.C. from Cancun, Mexico, ending his part in the ongoing Sunwing fiasco that’s left hundreds stranded in vacation destinations.

Cody’s original return flight with his wife and two children, aged five and seven, from Cancun to Edmonton was booked for Dec. 22, but they got a notification from the low-cost airline that their flight had been delayed a day. He was soon in constant communication with customer representatives from NexusTours, which acted as a middleman between the Sunwing customers and the airline, trying to arrange the trip home.

The family’s flight kept being delayed and they were unable to get in touch with any customer representative from Sunwing.

“If you tried to call they would instantly hang up,” said Cody.

The cited reason for the flight delay was the winter storm, he added, but flights were coming in and out of the Edmonton airport.

“We managed to stay in the hotel another night on the 22nd, but from then on it was hell,” Cody said. The family was taken to various hotels, some with leaking ceilings and windows. Hoping to be back in time for Christmas, the children were devastated when they learned it wasn’t to be, he said.

On Thursday, facing a public relations disaster as its backlog entered its second week, Sunwing said it is sending out dozens of recovery flights this week to bring home passengers stranded in Mexico after winter storms disrupted its operations.

Reached by the Star for comment, Sunwing representatives provided a statement that “We have planned 40 recovery flights for this week, 24 of which have already operated or will be complete” by the end of Thursday. The airline added that “we continue to work around the clock to overcome operational challenges brought on by recent, severe weather disruptions and return (passengers) home in the next few days.”

Airline president Len Corrado said in a separate statement that “we deeply apologize for the impact to our customers’ travel plans over the holiday season.”

Some of those customers have banded together. During Cody’s stay at one hotel he ran into 25 other Canadians who said they too were stranded by Sunwing. They all created a WhatsApp group, feeding each other any updates from the airlines.

Because the airline is also denying passengers any compensation, Cody said he thinks lawsuits “may be coming.” A Facebook group, of more than 800 members, has been created to help those affected by Sunwing’s cancellations.

Cody’s family managed to get on a flight to Edmonton on Dec. 27, staying overnight at a hotel there — the first “real night’s sleep” in days — before heading to B.C.

Particularly galling, he said, was the Sunwing app, which continually showed its flights departing and arriving on time, without acknowledging the delays and cancellations.

Michelle Heglin shared his frustration. She and her 12-year-old son’s flight from Cancun to Calgary on Dec. 22 was also delayed. Like Cody, she dealt with NexusTours and was unable to get in touch with Sunwing — and found that the airline’s app showed flights taking off and landing on schedule.

“The app showed our flight landed successfully back in Toronto, but we were still stranded in Cancun,” she said.

She finally got on a flight back home on Dec. 27. Curiously, the airplane was empty — “There were maybe four passengers and three off-duty flight attendants,” Heglin said.

THE MOST POWERFUL SALE & AFFILIATE PLATFORM AVAILABLE!

There's no credit card required! No fees ever.

Create Your Free Account Now!

At least she’s home. As of Thursday, Brent Adams is still stuck in Cuba. His flight home to Regina was scheduled for Dec. 27 but he said it’s been cancelled without a new departure time.

At his resort, Adams said, more airline horror stories are coming — families from Toronto are arriving with no luggage, including an 18-month-old child with no clothes or diapers and an elderly man without his cancer medication.

Adams’ problem got worse Thursday: Sunwing announced that because of “extenuating circumstances” it’s suspending operations out of Saskatoon and Regina entirely, through to Feb. 3, 2023.

Sunwing says since the initial cause for the flight’s delays is last week’s storm, the cancellations and delays are “outside of the airlines’ control” under Canada’s Air Passenger Protection Regulations and therefore, compensation is not owed to passengers.

When passengers try to file a claim to receive compensation for a delay or cancellation, Sunwing’s website says claims for flights from Dec. 18 onwards are “unable to be processed at this time due to operational challenges.”

The airline is offering compensation of $450 for lost baggage, but Gabor Lukacs, consumer advocate and founder of Air Passenger Rights, notes that it ought to be closer to $2,300, according to the Montreal Convention, a multilateral treaty which establishes airline liability.

“Sunwing has been systematically misleading passengers about their rights and skirting its responsibilities to passengers,” said Lukacs, adding that Sunwing’s actions make all Canadian airlines look unreliable.

“Sunwing is the focus of public outcry … however, we have been seeing many complaints about WestJet and Air Canada as well,” Lukacs said.

To restore some trust in the airlines, Lukacs said issuing and collecting multimillion fines three times in one year to airlines would “probably send a clear enough message to restore trust.”

“The Canadian air travel sector is facing some significant challenges, and is cutting the tree under itself. It may contribute to a downward spiral,” he said.

Transportation Minister Omar Alghabra said in a statement Wednesday that the situation at Sunwing was unacceptable and that airlines need to keep passengers informed.

For many affected Sunwing passengers the damage has already been done, with numerous customers telling the Star they’ll never fly with the airline again.

Heglin said she lost a couple days of work due to the delay and her son is now “absolutely terrified” to travel with Sunwing again. At the very least, she wants to be compensated for the extra out-of-pocket expenses such as cabs and food.

While Heglin acknowledges the storm disrupted travel, the lack of information from Sunwing was unacceptable: “If their communication was different, my feelings toward the situation would be different.”

“I own a business, and missed five days of running it. My kids missed Christmas. The way they treated us was insanity,” Cody said. “My kids will forever remember this. The negativity and stress overshadows the entire trip. Our mental health is totally in the bin. We will never use Sunwing again.”

Clarrie Feinstein is a Toronto-based business reporter for the Star. Reach Clarrie via email: clarriefeinstein@torstar.ca

Subscribe to the newsletter news

We hate SPAM and promise to keep your email address safe

Metis Studies

Online Entrepreneurs

Top Stories

To Top