Air travel has not been kind to one Ottawa woman who is struggling to get financial compensation for cancelled flights that happened not once, but twice in the past year.
“I can’t trust the airlines anymore,” said Tala Hamdan.
Hundreds of air passengers were stranded over the holiday season after airlines cancelled or delayed flights, largely due to a major storm that hit much of Canada around Christmas.
These new complaints add to the backlog of people seeking compensation for similar experiences, with the Canadian Transportation Agency (CTA) saying it has 33,000 complaints on its hands as of Jan. 4.
Hamdan’s first complaint centres around when she and her brother were returning from a trip to Belgium in June 2022. Due to a delay, the two missed their connecting flight between Montreal and Ottawa.
They were told by Air Canada they could catch a flight the next morning but a bus may be faster, which they did six hours later out of pocket.
After trying to contact Air Canada several times, and speaking to a representative over the phone, she says all she has are unanswered emails to the company’s claims department.
“They gave me a discount code, which thank you, but I want my money back, right? Like I was out a flight, and I was out money for the bus tickets,” she said.
Sunwing flight delays
While she thought that was the end of her 2022 air travel ordeals, the holiday storm arrived to add another chapter.
A “nightmare” for her family began on Dec. 26, according to her father Mohammad Hamdan.
After their Sunwing flight home from Mexico was delayed several times, they arrived at the airport to see people sleeping on the floor and no signs of their flight on the departure schedule.
“We never had or experienced such a delay, or such confusion in our trip, especially in a foreign country,” Mohammad said.
They were told they could either stay in Cancun and wait, or take the next available flight back to Canada, even if it wasn’t headed to Ottawa.
They chose to fly to Toronto and pay for train tickets home.
As with the Air Canada grievance, the family is waiting to hear back about compensation from Sunwing. They submitted a complaint through its website.
How to get compensation
The CTA is one way to resolve disputes with airlines.
The quasi-judicial tribunal has the ability to compel airlines to meet certain obligations, but passengers must first contact the airlines and wait at least 30 days for a response before filing a complaint.
The agency said it has altered its approach to better move through the sizable backlog — but it is dealing with an “avalanche” of traveller grievances that will likely take months to move through.
Officials from the CTA appeared before the House of Commons standing committee on transport, infrastructure and communities Thursday afternoon and said they expect even more complaints related to holiday travel.
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“What you are entitled to depends on whether the cause of a flight delay or cancellation is within the airline’s control, or outside the airline’s control,” said Tom Oomen, director general of the analysis and outreach branch at the CTA, earlier this week.
For delays within the airline’s control, Canadian regulations outline airline carriers must keep passengers informed about a new itinerary and provide them with food and accommodations. Exactly what happens next depends whether the delay was required for safety.
For canncellations within 14 days of the flight, airlines must compensate the passenger.
Delays outside an airline’s control can include weather, medical or labour issues. For them, airlines must still keep passengers informed and rebook them. If they can’t rebook the passenger within 48 hours of the original departure time, the airline must offer a refund.
“At the end of that process for any investigations, where we feel there has been a violation, then an enforcement officer will issue a notice of violation and potentially a fine against the airline,” Oomen said.
Sunwing payouts coming
John Gradek, a former Air Canada executive who now teaches at the aviation management program at McGill University, says Sunwing has been explicit in its promise to compensate affected travellers.
“The public statements made so far by Sunwing indicate, ‘Give us a chance to catch up to where we should be. And once we’re there, we’ll address the issues of compensation,'” Gradek told CBC Radio’s Ottawa Morning.
“So they’ve got till mid-January to start making payouts to passengers and that’s just started happening.”
He also said passengers shouldn’t worry if they’re unable to get someone on the phone immediately, saying Sunwing “knows who you are.”
The Hamdans’ rescheduled flight from Cancun ended up leaving in early January, long after they returned home. They couldn’t submit a complaint until the plane landed.
Tala said she also plans to add to the CTA backlog and submit a complaint for the June trip because the 30 days have passed.
Mohammad said his family expected more from the airline.
“You don’t want the airline to be confused themselves; they should guide us to the right decisions. But unfortunately, we were left in the dark. We were left in the cold.”
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