Passengers who were on the Sunwing flight destined for Cancun where the pilot was charged with alcohol impairment landed back in Calgary Sunday morning.
“I’m upset,” passenger Kevin Macleod said. “I’m mostly upset because I watched him come in on the airplane and you could easily tell… It was blatantly obvious.”
“I don’t even know how he got to the airplane,” Macleod said.
“I would have thought someone would have stopped him before he got to the airport or to the airplane. That part of it is very disappointing.”
Miroslav Gronych, a Slovakian national in Canada on a work visa, was escorted from the aircraft Dec. 31 after the gate crew and the co-pilot noticed odd behaviour and alerted police. Police said the 37-year-old was found unconscious in the cockpit prior to his plane’s departure from Calgary International Airport.
Gronych is charged with having care and control of an aircraft while impaired and having care and control of an aircraft while having a blood alcohol level over .08 (or exceeding 80 mgs of alcohol per 100mL of blood).
Sue Bonutti, who was also on the flight, said she feels mislead.
“They didn’t tell us the truth right up front.”
“Friends told us what was going on,” Bonutti said. “We would be coming back here today thinking we had a sick pilot. We didn’t have a sick pilot.”
Bonutti also said the whole situation has left her feeling very unsafe.
“There was a good chance he was going to fly to Regina and the other crew would take us on to Cancun,” she said. “When he passed out, that’s the only reason he got turned in, we suspect.”
Fellow traveller Dane Urquhart is still stunned.
“Irresponsible. And I can’t believe that he was even able to get into the airport,” Urquhart said. “I’m surprised that there’s not a check for the pilots and the flight crew before they board.”
He also wishes the passengers were provided with more information when the flight was delayed.
“The airline didn’t really look after us,” he said. “They didn’t tell us what was going on.”
Global News has reached out to Sunwing Airlines for a response to the passengers’ concerns. Spokesperson Jacqueline Grossman sent this statement:
“We can confirm that the pilot arrived late and was not accompanied by the rest of the crew when he went through security and boarded the aircraft. Passengers were informed by crew that the pilot was unwell. It wasn’t until several hours later that he was charged with being impaired, at which time the passengers were still in the air en route to Cancun.
“Upon landing, customers were greeted at the airport by Sunwing representatives who made themselves readily available to answer any questions or concerns. The flight landed at approximately 7 p.m. local time and experienced a delay of two hours and 47 minutes, and as per our standard operating procedures, transfers to the hotel were rescheduled accordingly. Since the delay incurred was less than three hours, no compensation was offered.
“Most passengers would have arrived at their hotels prior to 10 p.m. and even though main restaurants may have been closed at the time of their arrival, our hotels do offer refreshments and late night snacks. In addition, since it was New Year’s Eve, most of the hotels would have had gala dinners and serving food until at least midnight.
“Throughout the week, our local representatives remained in close contact with the hotels that these customers were staying at and we can confirm that there were very few concerns raised in destination.
“We recognize that upon learning about this incident that our customers would have been alarmed and remain very apologetic for any inconveniences that this has caused them.”
In a previous statement to Global News, Grossman said this was the first incident of its kind in Sunwing’s 11-year history as an airline.
Air passenger advocate Gabor Lukacs, from AirPassengerRights.ca, confirmed monetary compensation is not required by law “but by common sense, by good customer relations.”
“I fear that if Sunwing is just going to try to just walk away from this, without compensating passengers in some way for the whole situation, it will suffer significant loss in goodwill of consumers,” Lukacs said.
Gronych was released on $1,000 bail and had to surrender his passport. He was also suspended from flying any other aircraft in Canada.
His case has been put over until Jan. 25.
“I think it’s deplorable that there are people in control of aircrafts in this country in that situation,” said Scott Sangster, who was also on the flight. “We need to be more vigilant in terms of hiring people that are transporting people.”
“I know that Transport Canada’s rules are different than the FAA’s and that’s unfortunate,” he added.
Dr. Gregg Bendrick, an aerospace medicine specialist who also works as a senior aviation medical examiner with the U.S. Federal Aviation Administration (FAA), said Monday there is a clear drug and alcohol testing program for commercial airline pilots in the U.S., which includes a random testing component. He said anyone identified as impaired would then be evaluated to see if they suffer from alcoholism.
WATCH: Sunwing passengers speak out on pilot accused of being drunk. Reid Fiest reports.
The Canadian government says there is no specific provision in the Canada Labour Code addressing alcohol or drug testing in the workplace.
However, Employment and Social Development Canada said random testing is legal.
“Random testing of employees in safety-sensitive positions (defined as those in which incapacity due to drug or alcohol impairment could result in direct and significant risk of injury to the employee, others or the environment) has been determined to be permissible in a number of circumstances, as long as employees are notified that alcohol testing is a condition of employment,” spokesperson Amélie Maisonneuve said in an email sent Tuesday to Global News.
With files from Erika Tucker, Global News