About 750 Sunwing passengers consider legal action over travel mess
Published Thursday, January 5, 2023 11:26AM EST
Last Updated Thursday, January 5, 2023 11:26AM EST
Hundreds of Sunwing Airlines passengers are banding together and mulling a class-action lawsuit after being caught up in a wave of cancellations and lawsuits that left many stranded in tropical destinations, unable to return to Canada.
A social media group dedicated to organizing the passengers has swollen to 750 members and organizer Sohail Shahidnia says they are trying to find a lawyer to take the case.
“We just wanted to get home. This is not right,” Shahidnia said in an interview. “We want to make them accountable.”
Shahidnia was among the crowd at the Cancun airport whose return flights had been repeatedly cancelled over Christmas. In recorded video of the airport, hundreds can be heard chanting, “take us home!” In another place in the crowd, a video shows a Sunwing representative threatening to strand a man and his five-month-old child in Mexico “forever” — something for which the airline has since apologized.
He and his family booked another flight out and made it home. Many didn’t, caught in a whirlwind of cancellations, a continent-wide storm, as well as a digital communications breakdown that led to many empty seats on some rescue flights.
To top it off, a baggage belt breakdown at Toronto’s Terminal 3 — where Sunwing airlines depart — meant thousands of bags piled up in the terminal. Many have made it to a warehouse near the airport for passengers to pick up, though some have told CTV News Toronto they are still waiting weeks after their flight.
Sunwing has apologized and said its 43 rescue flights have now brought home anyone who was missed in a tough travel season.
But the airline’s decision to cancel flights from Saskatchewan until mid-February is having ongoing repercussions, including those for bride-to-be Ash Perry, who has been told two guests won’t be able to fly with Sunwing.
“The only options available are to either pay $1,400 plus to find their way to Ottawa, Montreal, and Toronto or get a full refund and not be able to attend my wedding,” she said in an interview. “I’m so stressed I don’t know what to do.”
The airline has started offering vouchers, passengers told CTV News, though Gabor Lukacs of Air Passenger Rights said passengers may be entitled to much more.
“The point is Sunwing can’t impose those choices on passengers. Sunwing has one choice: buy tickets on other airlines,” he said, referring to federal compensation rules.
He said the Canadian Transportation Agency procedure is cumbersome for passengers and doesn’t require airlines to prove they don’t owe passengers for cancelled flights.
“The even larger issue is the federal government’s failure to enforce passenger rights, and their failure to enact regulations that are simple — that’s what’s culminated in the current situation,” he said.
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The Liberal MP, who is chair of Canada’s Transport Committee, has called for Sunwing and Via Rail -- who also experienced travel delays due to the storm--to testify about delays. Opposition MPs have countered with a demand in a letter that the federal minister of transport also testify.
“It’s not enough for the Liberal Minister to tweet that the situation was unacceptable,” the NDP’s Taylor Bacharach said. “He’s the minister charged with overseeing Canada’s transportation system and has specific powers under legislation. If anyone can do something to protect passengers, it’s him.”