‘Unacceptable’ travel chaos will face committee study. Here’s who MPs want to appear

Click to play video: 'Canada travel chaos: Transport committee calls treatment of passengers ‘unacceptable’'
Canada travel chaos: Transport committee calls treatment of passengers ‘unacceptable’
WATCH: “Although weather delays are a part of winters in Canada, some of the poor service travellers received cannot be explained solely by weather. Canadians deserve better service. Canadians deserve better. Period,” Liberal committee chair Peter Schiefke said – Jan 9, 2023

Members of the House of Commons transport committee unanimously agreed on Monday to hear from the federal transport minister and Canada’s major airlines and passenger rail company on the travel fiasco that stranded Canadians over the winter holiday period.

The committee voted to undertake a study on travel delays and the treatment of air and rail passengers, after thousands of Canadians faced cancellations and delays due to poor weather.

Under the motion agreed to Monday, the committee will meet again on Thursday and begin hearing from witnesses including Transport Minister Omar Alghabra and representatives of Sunwing, WestJet, Air Canada and Via Rail, as well as the Toronto, Montreal and Vancouver airport authorities.

But the motion also seeks to hear from affected travellers themselves, along with passengers’ advocates and the Canadian Transportation Agency, a regulator that the committee heard is facing a backlog of more than 30,000 complaints.

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Other meetings may be held in the days and weeks to come to accommodate all witnesses the committee is seeking to hear from.

Click to play video: 'Transport minister blames combination of extreme weather, holiday travel peak for disruption over the holidays'
Transport minister blames combination of extreme weather, holiday travel peak for disruption over the holidays


Liberal committee chair Peter Schiefke and several other members called for Monday’s emergency meeting after Canadians experienced lengthy travel disruptions in recent weeks, as well as poor communication from some companies and airports.

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Although severe winter storms across the country played a role in flight and rail cancellations, Schiefke said the handling of those disruptions was “unacceptable.”

“Some of the poor service travellers received cannot be explained solely by weather,” he said at the top of Monday’s meeting. “Canadians deserve better service. Canadians deserve better, period.”

The committee is also seeking to address potential improvements to Canada’s passenger rights laws, as many travellers faced difficulties seeking refunds for cancelled or rebooked flights, hotel accommodations, and lost or misplaced luggage.

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Some committee members said they heard directly from constituents who were unable to get answers from airlines such as Sunwing after having their flights cancelled, and found themselves sleeping on airport floors and shuffled between hotels. Others ended up stuck on trains for hours.

“Passengers were an afterthought,” said Conservative MP Mark Strahl.

“The system completely failed.”

In an exclusive interview with Global News Thursday, Transport Minister Omar Alghabra said, if asked, he would testify before the committee on the travel disruptions.

This comes as hundreds of Canadian travellers were left stranded in Mexico and other sunny destinations, after a major winter storm over Christmas disrupted operations.

After Sunwing cancelled flights, some Canadians described being shuffled between hotels in Mexico, sometimes arriving to find there were no rooms booked for them. They said Sunwing officials passed along inaccurate and incomplete information about when they might be able to head home.

On Thursday, Sunwing said it had completed all recovery flights related to the holiday disruption and apologized for “letting our customers down”.

“We are astutely aware that, for too many Canadians, we failed to live up to that promise this holiday season,” Sunwing Travel Group CEO Stephen Hunter and Sunwing Airlines president Len Corrado said in a joint statement on Thursday

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“We had clear failures in execution, particularly in responding to weather-related delays and the aftermath of severe weather disruptions, which limited our ability to reposition aircraft and crew to other airports to help alleviate the backlog in flights.”

Click to play video: 'Travel chaos: What recourse are passengers seeking from airlines?'
Travel chaos: What recourse are passengers seeking from airlines?

Meanwhile, a Saskatchewan law firm is looking at filing a potential class action lawsuit against Sunwing.

In a statement on its website, Merchant Law Group LLP said that it is evaluating the potential for class action litigation on behalf of Canadians who experienced a flight cancellation or delays longer than nine hours that can’t be attributed to weather issues or aircraft safety.

The firm added that it’s also looking for anyone who had a trip cancellation, rerouting, or delay longer than nine hours due to Sunwing’s blanket cancellations in Saskatchewan.

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Sunwing has also halted flights from Saskatchewan until early February because of “extenuating circumstances,” drawing the ire of political leaders and passengers.

In addition to the airline cancellations, Via Rail customers also experienced significant disruptions over the holidays as a winter storm slammed Ontario and Quebec.

— with files from Rachel Gilmore, Aaron D’Andrea and The Canadian Press 

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