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Report on Business Federal agency fines Sunwing for service issues during 2018 ice storm

A Sunwing Boeing 737-800 passenger plane prepares to land at Pearson International Airport in Toronto on Aug. 2, 2017.

Christopher Katsarov/The Canadian Press

Sunwing Airlines Inc. has been fined about $700,000 and must compensate passengers for an array of problems during an ice storm a year ago in Toronto, the Canadian Transportation Agency (CTA) said on Monday.

The federal transportation agency said that although the ice storm was beyond Sunwing’s control, the airline and its agent at the time, Swissport Canada, “exacerbated the difficulties experienced by passengers.”

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The CTA found that Sunwing didn’t follow a number of industry rules around flight delays, delays on the tarmac, delayed and lost baggage, and communication with passengers about a flight’s status.

The problems occurred between April 14 and 18 last year. They started in Toronto during an ice storm and then spread to Montreal. Sunwing had about 16,000 passengers on 96 affected flights during the period. About half of the flights were delayed for more than eight hours. Fifteen flights were delayed on the tarmac for more than 90 minutes. The agency also said baggage belonging to several passengers was lost and delayed and some was damaged.

About half of the total fine of $694,500 stemmed from four incidents cited in the federal agency’s notice of violation against the airline. On four different flights that were stuck on the tarmac, Sunwing did not give passengers the option to disembark and wait in the airport until it was time to depart.

Sunwing in a statement on Monday called the ice storm “unprecendented” and apologized to its customers. The airline said it has taken measures that include new systems to better manage scheduling and communications during disruptions.

Beyond the fine, the transportation agency said Sunwing had to compensate passengers for costs such as hotel accommodations and meal expenses, and costs related to baggage issues.

The CTA addressed 574 complaints. In February, Sunwing said there were “only minimal breaches” of the rules and that the airline had “made every effort” to respond to individual complaints, according to the agency. The agency then heard from 80 passengers, many of which disputed Sunwing’s assertion that the airline had done all it could to rectify the situation.

“Many remain unsatisfied with what they have received from the carrier,” the CTA said in its findings.

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The agency ordered Sunwing to compensate passengers by June 28 and pay the fine by May 10.

In a statement, Canadian Transportation Agency chief executive Scott Streiner called the decision a “significant” one.

“It underscores that passengers have rights and recourse when their air travel is disrupted, and that even when problems stem from events such as bad weather, there is a minimum standard of treatment to which all passengers are entitled.”

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