Travellers run into turbulence before returning home from Cancun on Flair Airlines

Click to play video: 'Delayed Flair passengers finally get home from Cancun'
Delayed Flair passengers finally get home from Cancun
WATCH: Frustrated fliers have finally arrived home to Calgary days after a Flair Airlines flight out of Cancun was set to take off. Tomasia DaSilva reports. – Mar 19, 2024

A flight between Calgary and Cancun that usually takes around six hours ended up being a three-day affair for one group of Flair Airlines passengers.

“It was a terrible three days. We’re supposed to take off on Sunday, and they just kept pushing the flight back an hour at a time and wouldn’t tell us anything of what was going on,” Tyler Enns told Global News.

Passengers arrived at the Cancun airport early Sunday evening expecting to fly back home with the ultra-low-cost carrier (ULCC).

More than an hour after their scheduled departure time, the customers received the first of many messages from Flair.

According to multiple passengers Global spoke with, the initial delays were due to unanticipated maintenance, something to do with oxygen tanks.

“We heard there is some problems with the oxygen tank and that was pretty much it. And the next day it was the same thing,” Mirela Balan said.

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Late on Sunday, the passengers were told the airline wasn’t going to fly out that evening, and asked everyone to go back through customs and immigration, and then they were shuttled to area hotels.

Some passengers said they received chips and ham sandwiches, while other passengers said they received butter sandwiches.

The group of travellers returned to the airport on Monday morning, only to be met with more waiting.

“They brought us down like the National Guard and stuff to like surround the area. And they still wouldn’t give us answers. We tried calling Flair customer service. They’re like, ‘Yeah, the flight’s going to be at four. You’re on it.’ It’s like, ‘It’s 4 o’clock and we haven’t started boarding,’” Enns said, noting an absence of Flair staff.

Riaz Ebrahim, another traveller, said the guards came to the gate because the passengers were asking questions.

“Luckily, my wife spoke a little bit of Spanish, so she was able to translate back and forth,” Ebrahim said, kids in tow.

“We were there at 10 (a.m.) till 8 p.m. in the basement. And it was obviously intended to just to corral us in there with no information. Nothing. So we’re just sitting there. And then in the end, because we started getting mad, they finally gave us a hotel.”

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Click to play video: 'Chaos in Cancun: Flair Airlines cancellations leave tourists stranded in Mexico'
Chaos in Cancun: Flair Airlines cancellations leave tourists stranded in Mexico

On Tuesday morning, the travellers finally got some reprieve.

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“There was no communication with them. They just kept on saying, wait an hour, wait two hours, we’ll email you,” Joy Mackay said Tuesday. “Nothing was solved until this morning, finally.”

All the passengers Global spoke with said they had two sleepless nights and days of frustration before coming back to Canada.

“I am so tired, I just feel like crying. Like I feel tears just coming out just because we got back to Calgary,” Balan said.

The passengers said they were unlikely to book with Flair again.

A statement from Flair Airlines apologized for the significant delay, attributing it to a safety system becoming inoperable while in Cancun.

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“As soon as this issue was identified, the team exhausted all efforts to find the part to repair the system; unfortunately, it was very difficult to locate this part and get it to Cancun,” said Matt Kunz, vice-president of flight operations.

Kunz said the airline communicated regularly with passengers, arranged hotel accommodations and meals, provided transportation to and from the airport, and provided snacks and water at the airport.

The airline said when passengers experience a delay in the United States, they receive digital vouchers, but they are not available in Mexico. Vouchers are distributed manually or through third-party services, Kunz said.

“If a passenger did not receive, incurred costs will be addressed by Flair,” Kunz said.

“We acknowledge that communication is vital during such circumstances, and we made concerted efforts to keep passengers informed throughout the ordeal. Multiple communications were issued to affected passengers via SMS and email to provide updates on the situation and to offer assistance. However, we understand that not all passengers received these communications, and we are reviewing our processes and systems to ensure even more effective communication in the future.”

A Canadian aviation expert said Flair could be facing some severe headwinds in the upcoming months.

John Gradek, a lecturer at McGill University’s aviation management program, told Global News the ultra-low-cost-carrier has had serious financial issues for a while, and he expects they’re getting worse.

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That includes, he said, recent cancellations ahead of the busy travel season.

“If you look at what Flair’s schedule looks like for March, April and May of this year, they’re pulling back,” he said. “There’s over 100 flights that they’ve cancelled.”

“That is not good news if you start doing that this early. Where there is some smoke, there is some fire.”

Gradek added passengers should be “somewhat nervous and concerned,” and while he said he wouldn’t cancel his trip on Flair, he would get some insurance “just in case.”

“Flair is creeping towards a potential showdown with its creditors,” he said. “And Canadians are caught between the crosshairs of that showdown.”

While the airline recognized there has been a decrease in the number of flights offered in March, April and May, Eric Tanner, the airline’s vice-president of revenue management and network planning,  said capacity in terms of the airline’s “available seat miles” has increased by four per cent.

A year ago this month, the airline had four of its planes seized by a U.S.-based leasing company amid a commercial dispute. Court documents also show Flair owes Ottawa $67.2 million in unpaid taxes, prompting the federal government to obtain an order for the seizure and sale of the carrier’s property.

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Click to play video: 'Edmonton-based Flair Airlines owes more than $67M in taxes'
Edmonton-based Flair Airlines owes more than $67M in taxes

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