Sunwing president apologizes to stranded passengers, says outage result of cyberattack
Published Tuesday, April 19, 2022 11:59AM EDT
Last Updated Tuesday, April 19, 2022 8:35PM EDT
The president of Sunwing airlines apologized Tuesday to passengers who have been stranded for days and said the network outage affecting its flights is the result of a cyberattack on a third-party provider.
“Obviously, this is a terrible situation and one that we didn't expect,” Sunwing CEO Mark Williams told CP24 in an interview. “Certainly apologize to everyone for the inconvenience this has caused.
“Our goal is to get people on vacation on time with a new airplane and with great service. And unfortunately, because of a third party provider having a system outage we have not been able to perform the way we would like to.”
He went on to say the third-party provider had “been breached,” leaving the airline working “around the clock” to write boarding passes for passengers by hand.
“A system that is up and running all the time, which never fails, was hacked. They had a cyber-breach and they’ve been unable to get the system up.”
Because of the breach, Williams said, aviation authorities in both Canada and the United States want to make sure that the third-party system is secure before it is reactivated.
He said Sunwing is the only Canadian airline which uses the provider.
He pointed out “there's a lot of sensitive information in an airline system” and said “there's a lot of interest from Transport Canada, the FAA and others to understand what happened and also to not bring the system back up online until they're assured that it's safe to do so.”
He said he is reluctant to give an estimate for when things will be up and running because so far, updates from the vendor have not been reliable.
Williams did not say whether any passenger information had been accessed in the breach.
PASSENGERS STRANDED FOR DAYS
Travellers trying to get on Sunwing flights continued to face hours-long delays today as the outage affecting the airline’s check-in system continued.
On Sunday and Monday hundreds of passengers were stranded at Pearson International Airport for a good chunk of the day, as Sunwing delayed virtually all of its flights due to the network issue.
In a statement provided to CP24 earlier Tuesday, the airline said that its “check-in systems provider continues to experience a system outage,” which is in turn affecting its flight operations for a third consecutive day.
Around 21 flights were able to get in the air by Tuesday evening.
But the statement that “additional flight delays can be expected.”
As of late Tuesday afternoon a total of seven flights that were supposed to depart Pearson International Airport had been rescheduled for tomorrow.
While some flights were able to depart on Tuesday, most of those only took to the skies after being delayed by more than 24 hours.
“Our third-party systems provider, Airline Choice, continues to work with the relevant authorities to find a resolution to the system issue as soon as possible,” the statement from the airline notes. “In the meantime, while we continue to process flights manually, additional flight delays can be expected and customers are advised to sign up for flight alerts on Sunwing.ca.”
The cyber breach affecting the check-in system for Sunwing has impacted flights at all of the airports that the airline services, with some reports of travellers being stranded in the Caribbean for days.
Some customers have expressed frustration with the communication they have received from the airline.
One traveller, who spoke with CP24 on Tuesday, has been trying to return to Toronto from Cancun for the last three days but has had his flight repeatedly delayed.
He said that he has now booked a return trip to Canada for tonight but had to do so “at significant cost,” as no Sunwing flights were available.
“We have been given the runaround. We don't know who to talk to. They keep telling us to talk to Toronto, we talk to Toronto and Toronto tells us to talk to the people here. So it's just been a complete mess,” the traveller, whose name is Ben, said. “We don't speak the language, we came here based on Sunwing’s trusted source of going to a resort and coming back.”
PRESIDENT SAYS PASSENGERS WILL BE COMPENSATED
Williams told CP24 Tuesday night that there will be “some fairly significant cash compensation that everyone will be getting” because of the delays, but that each individual case would vary by the hours of delay.
The airline is providing travellers whose flights have been cancelled with hotel vouchers but only if their home is more than an hour drive away from the airport. Other travellers who live in the GTA are being given limo vouchers.
Williams said the airline will also allow passengers to delay their vacations up to June 23 of this year if they are able to do so.
However one industry watcher told CP24 that the carrots handed out by the airline are unlikely to be the end of the saga.
“This is going to go on for months and months where there are going to be receipts and claims given to Sunwing, given to insurance companies, it is really just a big mess and the worst part is it is not over with," Martin Firestone, who is the president of Travel Secure Inc. told CP24 on Tuesday afternoon.
"They still don’t have a conclusion to the technical problem, I suspect it will go on until tomorrow or even the day after and at that point who is going to go on a seven day trip when they have already missed three days of it? There is a good chance they will walk away period from the whole trip."
Williams said Sunwing may look at changing vendors to avoid similar problems in the future and said he hopes passengers will try the airline again at a later date to “see what the real Sunwing product is.”