It happened Saturday and again last Sunday: Sunwing Airlines passengers arriving or departing Toronto’s Pearson Airport were stuck for hours on the ground, held like prisoners on the plane for up to six hours.
“We are extremely apologetic for the inconvenience caused to our customers,” a Sunwing media spokesperson told Global News on Monday.
On Saturday, Sunwing flight WG302 for Santa Clara, Cuba, was scheduled to leave Toronto at 4:25 p.m. EDT but sat with passengers on the Pearson apron for about six hours, unable to depart.
Originally delayed by weather, there were further delays at the de-icing station and then the aircraft needed to be refuelled, Sunwing said.
The airline said it was not possible “to secure a gate to deplane passengers” and blamed staffing shortages with its ground support contractor, Swissport, for many of the issues.
The flight eventually returned to the terminal and departed for Cuba at 7:30 a.m. Sunday.
Later on Sunday evening, Sunwing flight WG715 arrived from Aruba and sat on the Pearson apron for more than five hours.
The plane landed at 10:20 p.m. EDT but passengers weren’t allowed to deplane until 3:40 a.m., Sunwing confirmed.
At that point, Sunwing said Swissport had an “inadequate” number of baggage handlers so many people did not receive their luggage until later, the airline confirmed.
In both cases, the delays far exceed the maximum limits provided under Sunwing’s tariff, which says passengers shouldn’t be delayed while aboard a plane on the ground for more than 90 minutes.
Sunwing now faces possible fines from the Canadian Transportation Agency, which regulates air carriers.
Gabor Lukacs, who leads Air Passenger Rights, a Halifax-based passenger rights organization, says Sunwing’s delays rival what happened with Air Transat in the summer of 2017.
On July 31, two Air Transat flights were delayed for six hours on the ground at Ottawa airport. The Canadian Transportation Agency later ruled that Air Transat ought to have provided passengers an opportunity to disembark after a 90-minute delay.
Lukacs says in the recent instances, passengers are entitled to compensation, and under the terms of its tariff, Sunwing faces a monetary fine.
Lukacs repeated his view that the agency doesn’t always keep the airlines in check when it comes to enforcement. He suggested that travellers who experience unwarranted delays file complaints. Some consumers are listening to that message.
“I can confirm that to date the CTA has received one complaint regarding flight WG302 from Toronto to Santa Clara, Cuba, on April 14. Passengers who experienced tarmac delays and other flight issues may file a complaint with the CTA,” said an agency spokesperson.
Concerning its Aruba flight delay, Sunwing gave assurances it is looking into how to make improvements.
“We are extremely apologetic for the inconvenience caused to our customers and will be reviewing this incident with our service provider to understand how future occurrences can be prevented.”