Sunwing Airlines hit with nearly $700K penalty over ice-related delays in 2018

A Sunwing Boeing 737-800 passenger plane prepares to land at Pearson International Airport in Toronto on Wednesday, August 2, 2017. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Christopher Katsarov

Sunwing Airlines Inc. has been ordered to pay a $694,500 penalty one year after a series of lengthy flight delays that affected more than 16,000 passengers.

The Canadian Transportation Agency issued a determination Monday that concluded, “Sunwing did not properly apply the terms and conditions of its Scheduled International Tariff, as required.”

The delays came as a result of an ice storm that affected Toronto’s Pearson International Airport beginning on April 14, 2018. While it acknowledged that Sunwing could not be blamed for the weather, the regulator said Sunwing and its baggage agent, Swissport, “exacerbated the difficulties experienced by passengers.”

READ MORE: Sunwing passengers furious after hours on Toronto airport apron (April 17, 2018)

As reported by Global News at the time, some Sunwing passengers had not received their checked baggage even 10 days after their flights.

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The agency blamed Sunwing for its decision not to suspend operations despite weather forecasts as early as April 11 forecasting severe weather, even though the Greater Toronto Airport Authority (GTAA), which operates the airport, recommended that carriers reduce their planned flights.

“In contrast to other carriers, Sunwing did not cancel any of its flights. The evidence indicates that this was in part due to Sunwing’s business model and its belief that delaying rather than cancelling its flights would be less disruptive to its passengers, who were on their way to or from vacation destinations,” the report says, under a section called Findings of Fact.

“The agency finds that Sunwing did not take all necessary measures to avoid the damages experienced by passengers who experienced flight delays,” the agency found, adding that passengers were entitled to receive “reasonable hotel expenses and transfers.”

WATCH: (Aired April 19, 2018) Sunwing passengers still without luggage

Click to play video: 'Sunwing passengers still without luggage' Sunwing passengers still without luggage
Sunwing passengers still without luggage – Apr 19, 2018

In a written response to the order, Sunwing repeated an apology to travelers who were affected.

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“Since the storm occurred, Sunwing has changed ground handler, invested in new commercial operations leadership, and has worked to onboard new industry leading systems to better manage scheduling, contingency planning, and communications during disruptions,” the company said in a written statement.

“While Sunwing’s charter business model differs from scheduled airline carriers in that we delay flights instead of cancelling them so that we can fulfill our obligation to pick up customers in destination, we have taken measures to lessen the customer impact by proactively delaying flights when disruptions are anticipated so that people can rest in the comfort of their home or hotel instead of the airport. Sunwing continues to have a strong passenger care commitment which provides compensation and options up to the point of cancelling for a full refund in the event of a delay exceeding 12 hours.”

READ MORE: Sunwing investigated for delays, cancellations that left passengers stranded for hours (April 25, 2018)

Despite the decision and penalty, airline critic Gabor Lukacs says the ruling doesn’t go far enough.

“I am disappointed by the slap-on-the-wrist penalty. In most cases, Sunwing was fined $2,500 per flight, instead of $2,500 per passenger,” said Lukacs, who operates Air Passenger Rights, an independent air travel watchdog.

He says the penalty raises more questions than answers.

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“Will Sunwing actually have to pay the fine…why has the agency not released the investigation report that was the basis for the penalty?” Lukacs said.

In its order, the agency writes that Sunwing must “compensate passengers for out-of-pocket expenses incurred as a consequence of the carrier’s failure to apply the terms and conditions set out in its International Tariff no later than June 28, 2019”.

The agency said it received 578 complaints about Sunwing’s delays.

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