They sat on the tarmac at Boston Logan International Airport for about two hours Friday evening and then the planeload of Toronto-bound Porter Airlines passengers returned to the terminal building after a mechanical malfunction on the aircraft.
The flight was cancelled, but the showdown over a consumer’s right to record an airline’s explanation for delay and compensation was about to begin.
“There was a problem with the latch door to the luggage compartment and when it passed 10 o’clock apparently the crew couldn’t fly anymore because … in their words, they would turn into pumpkins,” said Kira Wegler, a Toronto resident on the flight returning from a Florida vacation with her family.
Inside the gate area of the terminal, Porter passengers gathered to find out when they would be able to make it out. They said the public address system wasn’t working in the gate area and travellers had to queue up to get information individually from Porter staff.
“As you are waiting in this line, you had no information from the front of the line,” said Josh Howard, who was travelling with Wegler and his parents.
Frustrated by disorganization, some passengers pulled out their phones and began video recording Porter staff delivering information. It was then they were confronted with an unusual demand.
LISTEN: Kira Wegler, a Toronto resident on the flight returning from a Florida vacation, talks to Global Newsradio 640 Toronto
“At that point, the personnel came from behind the desk and started threatening us to call the police if we don’t delete the videos off of our phones and show evidence that it’s gone from our trash bin,” said Wegler.
If they failed to delete their video recordings of the explanations by Porter staff, Wegler said the Porter representative was specific about the consequences.
“They were going to have us arrested,” she said.
“It was very aggressive, taking away from the needs of us as clients and customers,” said Ellen Howard, another Porter passenger.
Many of the travellers agreed to delete their videos out of fear of repercussions.
But Wegler didn’t delete all of her videos and shared footage with Global News.
The videos appear to show a Porter representative explaining that recording video in the airport is a violation of security rules, which is not true.
“No, there is no law or policy that prohibits filming inside Logan Airport, except in secure areas and of security procedures,” said Kelly Smith, media relations manager
for the Massachusetts Port Authority.
After being asked by Global News to explain what happened, Porter Airlines apologized.
“In this particular case, there was a misunderstanding by the team member involved that taking video at this particular airport beyond the security checkpoint was not permitted,” said Brad Cicero, spokesperson for Porter Airlines.
“In fact, the prohibition applies to secure airport areas and security screening. He didn’t realize the distinction at the time, but we have advised the team members involved for future reference. While the request to stop filming or delete footage was incorrect, the intention was only to try and enforce what was believed to be an airport policy,” said Cicero.
Passengers interviewed by Global News said Porter customers behaved in a civil way. They said staff members were unnecessarily confrontational.
“Appalling. To me, in a free society, you should be able to videotape in a public place,” said Rick Howard, adding this was his first and likely his last Porter trip.
Many customers faced with denials of compensation choose to record the company representatives’ statements for use in complaints or civil law suits.
It is a practice supported by Dr. Gabor Lukacs, a Halifax-based consumer advocate who coordinates Air Passenger Rights, an independent network of volunteers. Lukacs’ organization encourages travellers to file complaints with airlines and the Canadian Transportation Agency and, if necessary, to sue airlines in small claims courts for compensation they are owed.
Meanwhile, Porter said it doesn’t object to videotaping its employees.
“We do not have any policy that would prevent people from taking video at airports,” said Cicero.
“Circumstances may differ on an aircraft if taking video has the potential to affect safety or the personal comfort of others on board.”
The passengers ended up spending three extra days in Boston until they could be booked on a Porter flight on Monday afternoon.
While Porter provided hotel accommodation and covered the cost of some meals, it’s refusing to pay additional compensation. The airline is citing weather as the cause of the flight delay and not mechanical reasons, which would necessitate cash payment.
“The aircraft door issue would be attributable to weather in this case due to the conditions. If there was a technical defect, for example, then weather would not be considered as the cause,”