August 12, 2019 8:30 pm

Sunwing Airlines challenges fine issued after ice storm-related delays in 2018

WATCH: Sunwing Airlines has asked for review of a $694,000 fine levied by the Canadian Transportation Agency in April. Sean O’Shea reports.

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Sunwing Airlines is disputing a $694,500 fine issued by the Canadian Transportation Agency in April.

The fine was levied by the federal regulator following an investigation of the airline’s conduct after an ice storm on April 14, 2018.

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“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 CTA report said.

More than 16,000 Sunwing passengers experienced considerable flight delays; some passengers waited days or weeks to get their luggage returned.

READ MORE: Sunwing Airlines hit with nearly $700K penalty over ice-related delays in 2018 (April 8, 2019)

The Canadian Transportation Agency ordered the airline to pay out-of-pocket expenses for affected travelers.

“Sunwing reimbursed all passengers that were owed compensation for their out-of-pocket expenses as a result of the Spring 2018 events in Montreal and Toronto,” the CTA wrote in a statement to Global News.

But Sunwing has declined to pay the fine, and is instead exercising its legal right to seek a review of the decision.

“We can confirm that we filed an Application For Review with the Transportation Appeal Tribunal Of Canada with respect to a Notice Of Violations dated April 8, 2019 that was issued by the Canadian Transportation Agency. As this matter is still under review, it would not be appropriate to discuss our undertakings in this regard at this present time,” Sunwing said in a written statement.

WATCH: (April 16, 2018) Sunwing passengers stuck on the ground for up to 6 hours

Sunwing quietly asked for the review on May 10, one month after the CTA decision.

But at the time the ruling was handed down, the company appeared to accept the decision and gave no indication it would not pay the fine.

“We would like to reiterate our sincere apologies to the customers impacted by last April’s ice storm and reinforce our commitment to continuously improving our service and communications,” wrote Jacqueline Grossman, vice-president of corporate marketing and communications for Sunwing Travel Group, on April 8.

READ MORE: Sunwing passengers furious after hours on Toronto airport apron (April 16, 2018)

The founder of a consumer watchdog group, however, says Sunwing is “talking out of both sides of its mouth” by declining to pay the fine while claiming it’s sorry.

“I would not want to be flying with an airline that apologizes on the one hand but then when it comes to assuming responsibility does not do the right thing, “ said Gabor Lukacs of Air Passenger Rights.

If Sunwing does not succeed at the review stage, it is within its rights to launch an appeal.

Lukacs, meanwhile, says the airline’s unwillingness to pay the fine is remarkable.

“Sunwing got a lenient penalty already. They got punished for about five per cent of what they could be fined for the tarmac delay…they could have been fined many millions of dollars. They got fined a few hundred thousand,” he said.

“It takes a lot of arrogance to then claim they shouldn’t pay that.”

WATCH: (April 16, 2018) A look back: 2013 Ice Storm vs. 2018 Ice Storm

© 2019 Global News, a division of Corus Entertainment Inc.

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