It took 36 hours, three airlines and one layover to bring Alaa Sakr and her family back home to Canada from their tropical vacation in Mexico.
“I have travelled a lot in Europe and used different airlines – budget airlines, by the way – but I have never had this happen to me,” Sakr told CTV News Toronto Monday. “And then it happens to me now, three times in one day. That’s really not promising.”
Sakr had vacationed in Cancun, Mexico, with her husband, mother, and two-year-old daughter over the holidays. They were scheduled to fly back to Ontario with Flair Airlines to the Region of Waterloo International Airport on New Year’s Day.
Since their flight was scheduled to leave at around noon, Sakr said they checked out of their hotel at 7:30 a.m.
“We took the shuttle bus to the airport [and while we were] waiting in line, I was checking my emails and saw the cancellation email [from Flair], rebooking us on January 15,” she said.
In the email obtained by CTV News Toronto, Flair told passengers the flight was cancelled due to “aircraft damage at the airport within airline’s control” and that they rebooked passengers on the next available flight – a full two weeks later.
“Subsequent Flair Airlines return flights were quite full, and so the option provided to the family was the earliest the airline could seat them on their return,” Mike Arnot, Flair Airlines spokesman, said in an emailed statement.
“The passengers are offered completion of their itinerary on Flair on the next available flight or a refund if they choose not to accept the flight offered. Hotel accommodations are not provided in this situation.”
The tail section of a Flair Airlines plane is seen in this undated handout photo. THE CANADIAN PRESS/HO, Flair Airlines
Sakr said she tried getting in contact with a Flair agent online but didn’t get to talk to anyone about what she and her family were going through. Instead, Sakr started looking at other flights that could bring them back home that day as she and her husband needed to return to work.
SECOND FLIGHT, ANOTHER CANCELLED TRIP
Sakr said she found a trip back with Air Transat, scheduled to depart at 12:15 p.m., which was leaving in the same terminal they were stuck in.
“We tried to book this one, but it was very expensive,” Sakr said. “It was $1,200 per person for only return back, and we’re four.”
Then she found another trip with Swoop Airlines to Toronto Pearson International Airport that would cost just under $1,400 for all four of them, scheduled to leave at 11:14 a.m. – but from a different terminal.
“So, we took a taxi because the shuttle bus was going to be late by like 35 minutes. We didn’t have the time. It was around 10 a.m. […] so we were running,” Sakr said.
As soon as they reached Swoop’s check-in desk, Sakr said they found out their flight had again been cancelled.
“At first, they couldn’t find our names,” she said. “They asked to see the booking number, they asked to see the email, then they said, ‘Oh no, now I know what happened. The flight is cancelled.’”
Sakr said the flight was cancelled at 10 a.m., which was 11 minutes before they got their confirmation e-mail for the flight.
(Source: Swoop Airlines)
A spokesperson for Swoop confirmed to CTV News Toronto that the flight was cancelled at 10:19 a.m. on Jan. 1.
“In this instance it appears as though the travellers booked the flights just minutes before the cancellation and email notifications were issued,” Julia Brunet, communications advisor for Swoop, said in an emailed statement.
Sakr said the next flight Swoop could book them on would take off the following week, and she was recommended to ask for a refund. Brunet said Swoop issued a full refund to Sakr and her family, and “sincerely apologize” for the inconvenience.
ROUND THREE HIT WITH DELAYS
At this point, Sakr says there were no more direct flights to either Toronto Pearson or Waterloo airports. But there was an indirect flight with Air Canada that would take them to Toronto through Montreal, with roughly a three-hour layover between trips.
“The timing and everything was okay, so we booked this one,” she said, adding it was supposed to leave at around 2:40 p.m. from another terminal at the airport.
Sakr said she paid Air Canada $850 per person for the one-way tickets.
When they made it to the next terminal to check in for their flight, Sakr said she received an email saying her flight from Montreal to Toronto had been pushed back to 7 a.m. the following day.
The flight out of Cancun was also delayed by four hours, plus an additional hour waiting on the tarmac. Sakr said they didn’t receive an explanation about the hours-long delay, which they later learned was due to staffing shortages, until they were on board the flight.
“They didn’t offer anything,” she said. “They just gave us a meal voucher.”
Airline ground crew walks past grounded Air Canada planes as they sit on the tarmac at Pearson International Airport in Toronto on Tuesday, April 27, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Nathan Denette
A spokesperson for Air Canada could not comment on Sakr’s specific case, but said that the airline does meet its obligations under the Air Passenger Protections Regulations (APPR). Under APPR, airlines are required to provide clear communication on delays or cancellations, damaged or lost luggage, and when a flight is delayed on the tarmac for more than three hours.
“If this customer has questions, they should contact our Customer Relations department through our website. Please note it may take up to 30 days for us to process cases,” the emailed statement reads.
Thankfully, Sakr and her family had relatives to stay with when they landed in Montreal at around midnight. Since they didn’t get to bed until around 1 a.m., they opted for an afternoon flight back to Toronto – which left on time.
But the arduous and long travel day didn’t end at Toronto Pearson airport. Since they parked their car at the Waterloo airport, Sakr said they had to take an hour-long Uber ride to get there.
It was between 6 and 7 p.m. by the time they made it back to their Hamilton home.
‘I WON’T FLY WITH THEM ANYMORE’
Sakr said everyone felt “horrible” and “really tired” after their 36-hour travel day.
“My daughter had tantrums all [throughout] the day,” she said. “My mom, she’s a senior, she was really stressed, really tired, she didn’t get enough sleep, it was a horrible experience. It wasn’t easy on any of us.”
All of the rescheduled flights have set Sakr back $3,500, though she said Flair promised to refund her $1,000 for her cancelled flights. Still, Sakr said $2,500 will be out of pocket.
“It’s the first and the last time. It was horrible, like rebooking us after 15 days? I can’t believe it,” Sakr said, about her experiences with Flair Airlines. “I won’t fly with them anymore.”
Arnot said the airline “strives” to fly its scheduled trips.
“This is a really unfortunate scenario that we want to avoid for our passengers, and we’re sorry for it,” Arnot said.
Sakr said she has filed a complaint with each airline online.
WHAT SAKR COULD DO NEXT
“The main thing is Flair cannot just walk away from its responsibility to transport a passenger under the law,” Gabor Lukasc, president of Air Passenger Rights, told CTV News Toronto Monday. “They have to take all reasonable measures to transport a passenger, that would include buying a passenger ticket on another airline.”
Under the Montreal Convention, an international treaty, Lukasc says with international flights, airlines have to take “all reasonable measures to transport a passenger.”
“What is clear to me is that offering a flight two weeks later is not reasonable by any stretch of the imagination, and Flair will have to pay for these passengers’ extra expenses they incurred,” he said, adding Sakir could sue Flair for the expenses under Article 19 of the Montreal Convention which addresses airlines’ liabilities when there are flight delays.
Lukasc also recommended against filing a complaint with the Canadian Transportation Agency (CTA), instead taking the matter to small claims court if necessary, as there will be an impartial adjudicator.
“The [CTA is] biased because they’re closer with the airline,” he said. “The other reason is, of course, they have a huge backlog of 33,000 complaints, and expected processing time is approximately 18 months.”