Passengers stuck on a Sunwing Airlines flight for several hours on the apron at Toronto Pearson International Airport over the weekend describe their experience as forcible confinement that only ended after a passenger called 911.
“We were held hostage for six hours, in my opinion,” said Costantino Masellis, who told Global News about the ordeal aboard Sunwing flight WG715 to Toronto from Aruba late Sunday.
“People were fainting. Babies were crying. One lady was vomiting for hours,” he said.
Masellis described how passengers couldn’t leave the plane until 3:40 a.m., a time confirmed by airline.
“There was no reason for us to be on that plane for six hours,” he said.
A day earlier in Toronto, Sunwing passengers aboard flight WG302 bound for Santa Clara, Cuba were confined to the airline cabin at Toronto Pearson International Airport between 4:25 p.m. until just after midnight.
Sunwing blamed that delay on extreme weather conditions, “a long queue for de-icing” and an inability to find a gate to deplane passengers. It apologized to passengers for both airport delays.
READ MORE: What are your rights as a passenger?
A spokesperson for Swissport Canada Handling Inc., the company contracted by Sunwing for ground services including baggage handling, told Global News that “slightly more than 80 staff” were absent from work Sunday.
“While we experienced a higher than normal volume of sick calls because of severe weather in Toronto over the weekend, other factors – ice covered equipment and off-schedule flights – impacted our ability to operate business as usual,” said Pierre Payette, vice president of operations, in a statement.
Dozens of Sunwing passengers contacted Global News about experiences on flights over the last four days.
Christina, a Vaughan resident who asked that her last name not be used, described her ordeal as “chaos at the airport.”
She detailed how her family was scheduled to depart from Toronto at 10:15 a.m. Monday for Montego Bay, Jamaica. The flight was finally cancelled but she has still not been able to retrieve her bags.
“There was no communication from Sunwing at all. It was a complete disaster,” she said.
Rashad Ahmadov was travelling in a group of eight to Punta Cana, Dominican Republic on Sunday.
His flight was repeatedly delayed and finally cancelled, but throughout the day Ahmadov said Sunwing staff provided no information to travellers.
“There was no respect for people. They didn’t care,” he said.
“I don’t think this would have happened in a third-world country airport.”
Then there’s what happened to the Toronto-bound flight from Panama Monday which took an unexpected detour to Cancun, Mexico.
Darryl Trewin, who works for a courier company in Toronto, said Sunwing told his group to leave its hotel and board buses for the small, former military base now called Scarlett Martínez International Airport.
“I had a gut feeling something was wrong here,” Trewin told Global News by phone after a 19-hour flight ordeal.
He said Sunwing customers were taken by bus to the airport and told that the outgoing flight would be late.
Then, hour by hour, they were told the flight was delayed further. Finally, a plane was brought from Calgary to take the passengers to Cancun, Mexico, where they waited for three-and-a-half hours at the local airport and unable to leave the plane.
“People were fainting. Seniors were throwing up,” he said while describing how the temperature in the cabin reached 90 F.
After a long delay, the flight arrived in Toronto at 10:45 a.m. on Tuesday. Trewin said passengers were exhausted and frustrated with getting so little information.
“It was lies, scheming and manipulation,” said Trewin.
Passengers on various delayed or cancelled flights told Global News they could understand if weather prevented flights from running on time, but they said it was inappropriate for Sunwing not to give them accurate information or not to cancel flights outright and offer refunds if the airline knew it could not provide transportation as promised.
Travellers who were kept on board a plane on the ground for more than 90 minutes, something that’s a violation of Sunwing’s tariff filed with the Canadian Transportation agency, can file complaints through the regulator’s website.
Sunwing told Global News it regrets what happened to passengers.
“We are extremely apologetic for the inconvenience experienced by our customers during these exceptional circumstances and are in the process of reaching out to those affected with details of financial compensation,” said Sunwing spokesperson Rachel Goldrick.