Khadija Braddy and her family spent Christmas Day sitting on the floor of the Cancun International Airport in Mexico after their Christmas Eve flight home with Sunwing Airlines was delayed.
The Windsor, Ont., resident, was travelling with her husband and their nine- and 15-year-old daughters, who were on their first international flight. Their plane to Hamilton finally took off 36 hours late, shortly after 1 a.m. on Boxing Day.
Others continued to feel the effects days after a busy travel time of year, combined with severe weather in parts of Canada, left piles of luggage backlogged in airports, flights delayed or cancelled, and passengers stranded trying to get home or go on holiday.
Ms. Braddy said she understands that storms happen and affect travel, but takes issue with the lack of communication or accommodation provided by Sunwing after the flight was delayed. She said her family didn’t receive any correspondence, and so they took a taxi and paid for a hotel close to the airport to be nearby.
Sunwing, which says it is in the midst of a multiday effort to retrieve its passengers from Mexico, Cuba, Dominican Republic and other vacation destinations, received a dressing-down Wednesday from the federal Transportation Minister.
“This ongoing situation is unacceptable,” Omar Alghabra tweeted in the early afternoon. “Passengers have rights under the Air Passenger Protection Regulations to ensure robust passenger protection in situations like these, and our government will continue to ensure these rights are protected.”
But a passenger rights’ advocate said airlines have learned they can misbehave without incurring large fines.
“Airlines feel that they can get away with lack of redundancy because the government is not enforcing passengers’ rights,” said Gabor Lukacs, founder of the non-profit Air Passenger Rights, drawing a parallel with airport woes this past summer.
“We understand bad weather happens … but I do expect that when bad weather happens airlines will be prepared, they will not strand people on the tarmac for 10-12 hours, and when the bad weather is over, they will be able to get back to normal operation in a reasonable fashion, a reasonable amount of time.”
A number of Sunwing passengers have been stranded for days. In an e-mailed statement Wednesday, the airline cited “unprecedented operational challenges.”
“We have 40 recovery flights planned for this week thus far, 18 of which have already operated or will be complete by end of [Wednesday],” read the statement, attributed to airline president Len Corrado. “For our customers awaiting updated flight times, information on rescheduled flights will be communicated as they are confirmed.”
The airline had earlier blamed mechanical issues at Terminal 3 of Toronto’s Pearson International Airport for luggage problems, saying it could not guarantee that checked baggage would accompany southbound passengers.
Days of baggage issues resulted in huge numbers of backlogged pieces of luggage. In a statement Wednesday, a spokeswoman for the Greater Toronto Airport Authority, which oversees Pearson, said that “issues affect[ing] baggage delivery … are clearing up.”
Rachel Bertone said the airport expected to resume “near-normal operations,” without giving a timeline. She did not respond to a follow-up message asking the scale of the remaining luggage backlog.
In Halifax, an airport spokesperson estimated 100 to 200 remaining pieces of luggage were waiting to be reunited with their owners.
It’s not only air travel that has been affected by the winter blast across the country. Via Rail service was upended for several days with all trains cancelled along the Toronto-Ottawa and Toronto-Montreal corridors Christmas Day and Boxing Day after a Canadian National Railway train derailment.
Several trains travelling in the region Friday faced significant delays as a result of power outages and downed trees on the tracks. Many passengers were stranded overnight on trains. In a statement, Via said a full refund will be given to those who were stuck on the trains Friday as well as those who had their trips cancelled.
The carrier said all trains along the affected routes were to run as scheduled Wednesday, but some delays were expected because of “continued congestion.”
In an update posted to its website Wednesday morning, Air Canada said flights in and out of Regina and Calgary may be disrupted as a result of inclement weather. Data from live flight-tracking platform FlightAware on Wednesday afternoon showed 19 per cent of flights out of Pearson were delayed. Departure delays were also hitting the airports in Ottawa and Winnipeg.
Typical operations at Vancouver International Airport returned with 97 per cent of scheduled flights expected to take off Wednesday.
Faced with numerous delays and flight cancellations as a result of winter storms in British Columbia and destinations across the country, it was the airport, not the airlines, that offered passengers food vouchers and free accommodations for up to four nights. Communications manager Alyssa Smith said Wednesday that cots, blankets and hygiene kits were also provided for those who stayed at the Vancouver airport.
“We love our airport, but it’s not a great place for people to spend the night,” Ms. Smith said.
For air passengers suffering the effects of recent travel woes, Mr. Lukacs suggests documenting everything and taking photos. If a compensation demand to the airline is not handled satisfactorily, he suggests serving them with papers for small-claims court.
“The airlines themselves are the source of the problem. … You shouldn’t hesitate to be litigious,” he said.