A Pointe-Claire, Que., family feels short-changed and lied to by Sunwing after their teenager’s flight was turned back to Montreal and a day later, cancelled.
Jesse Massabuau, 14, was all packed up and excited to head to Miami and reunite with his family for the holidays on his first solo trip.
But the airline he was flying with never made it to his destination.
Massabuau says that shortly after taking off the morning of Dec. 25, the pilot on his Sunwing flight announced they were having issues with the plane and they had to return to Montreal.
“At 10:30 a.m. I get a call, so you can imagine my heart just stops because why would he be calling me at 10:30 from the airplane?” his mother Sheila Botton said.
His mother says she went back to the airport to pick up her son and they were sent home with vouchers but very little information.
When they returned to the airport for a third time on Dec. 26, they were checked in, suitcase loaded, but the flight was cancelled for good.
Sunwing sent an email hours later explaining the cancellation. “Please be advised that your flight has been cancelled due to displaced crew and aircraft resulting from the aftermath of severe weather disruptions across the country.”
“Of course it didn’t make sense because you have to have as a flight, an operator, you have to have a plan B and plan C you can’t just disregard everybody and just drop… abandon us,” says Botton.
Sunwing offered a refund for the flight or the option to book another flight before Dec. 30 by calling their number, which Botton says is impossible to get through.
She would like to be compensated by the carrier.
In a statement to Global News, Sunwing confirmed their aircraft had a mechanical issue.
“Once the mechanical issue was addressed and resolved, and the aircraft deemed fit to operate, the crew was over duty hours and could no longer operate the flight,” wrote Sunwing in an email.
“Although the flight was rescheduled to the following day, it unfortunately had to be cancelled as the Miami airport and ground staff could not accommodate the rescheduled date and time.”
The airline adds the refund will be processed within 30 days but did not address concerns about the APPR’s provisions to provide another flight with an alternative carrier for affected passengers.
“We sincerely regret the impact to our customers travel plans over the busy holiday period,” the statement ended.
Air passenger rights advocate Gábor Lukács agrees the airline should do more.
“Because we are talking here about a maintenance issue and a subsequent aircraft which really was something within the airline’s control — not having proper crew, not having adequate arrangements — Sunwing has to pay for those passengers for an alternate flight,” Lukács said.
Sunwing has been dealing with cancellation issues across the country and beyond. Hundreds of Canadian passengers remain stuck in Mexico after Sunwing cancelled their flights home.
Read more: Stranded in paradise: airline catching up after flights delayed by severe weather disruptions
Canada’s Transport Minister Omar Alghabra called the ongoing situation “unacceptable” on Twitter.
“Canadians are patient when it comes to weather disruptions but they rightly expect their airlines to keep them informed and to manage these disruptions smoothly. I am very concerned with the current situation with Sunwing Airlines,” Alghabra wrote in part.
“Passengers have rights under the Air Passenger Protection Regulations to ensure robust passenger protection in situations like these, and our government will continue to ensure these rights are protected.
Lukács believes the government is not enforcing passengers’ rights in Canada and current legislation is not strong enough.
“The Air Passenger Protection Regulations (APPR) is very poorly written, unnecessary, complex and takes a disproportionate amount of resources to enforce passengers rights by the passenger, but this problem is made far worse by the government’s failure to take enforcement actions,” Lukács said.
“Under the law, the government could fine airlines up to $25,000 per passenger, per incident.”
Meanwhile, the Canadian Transportation Agency says that passengers who believe an airline didn’t follow the APPR can file a complaint on the CTA website.
“The APPR sets out minimum obligations of airlines to passengers when flights are disrupted. This can include things such as rebooking a passenger on a flight, providing meals and accommodation, or providing compensation for inconvenience depending on the reason for the flight disruption,” wrote CTA spokesperson Martine Maltais in an email.
As for Massabuau, he says his holidays are ruined and he will never travel with the airline again.
“Definitely not, never. I don’t even want to see that brand again,” Massabuau said.