WATERLOO REGION — Not one, not two, but three Canadian airlines blindsided Alaa Sakr on the same day as she scrambled to get her family home from their Mexican vacation.
She’s out of pocket about $2,500 after airlines put her family through two cancelled flights and a lengthy delay that caused an overnight layover.
“What happened is a disaster,” the Hamilton woman said, arguing the federal government must do more to protect passengers. “I dealt with three airlines on that day and all of them didn’t care about us.”
Here’s what happened.
Blindside No. 1: After a week on vacation, Sakr, her husband, their toddler, and her mother check out of their resort at 7:30 a.m. Jan. 1 and head for the airport in Cancun, Mexico.
There they learn Flair Airlines has cancelled their 11:52 a.m. return flight to the Region of Waterloo International Airport at Breslau.
Flair explains by email at 8:04 a.m. that it cancelled the flight “due to aircraft damage at the airport within airline’s control, but required for safety.” Sakr is not told that ground equipment bumped into the Flair jetliner at the Breslau airport before it was to fly to Mexico to collect them.
Flair tells the family it can’t bring them home until Jan. 15. The airline will not put them up in a hotel. The family is without trip insurance, has daycare and work obligations, and can’t afford to wait two weeks in Mexico.
They scramble for another way home but find no other flights that day to the Breslau airport.
Blindside No. 2: The family hunts for same-day tickets to Pearson International Airport in Toronto. They see four seats on Air Transat but the cost at $5,000 is far more than $2,200 they spent for return flights on Flair.
Online they find four same-day tickets on Swoop Airline for $1,400. They book tickets right away because the flight departs imminently at 11:40 a.m. At 10:11 a.m. Swoop confirms their tickets by email.
They pay $40 to rush by taxi to a different airport terminal. It is only five minutes away but they have no time to wait for a free shuttle.
At check-in they find other Flair passengers lined up for the same Swoop flight. That’s when they are told Swoop has cancelled the flight. It is now too late to catch the Air Transat flight to Toronto.
Blindside No. 3: Finding no more direct flights to Toronto, the family books four Air Canada seats departing for Montreal at 2:40 p.m. They are booked on a connecting flight to Toronto at 9:30 p.m. after a three-hour layover in Montreal. The tickets cost $3,300.
They switch terminals again but are told Air Canada has delayed departure until 6:45 p.m. A flight attendant later tells them the plane had no crew to fly it.
The delay of four hours means they will miss their connection to Toronto. Now they face an overnight layover in Montreal. Air Canada puts them on a 7 a.m. flight to Toronto on Jan. 2. It does not offer them a hotel room.
The family boards the airplane in Cancun around 6 p.m. and wait longer on the tarmac before the flight finally departs. It is nearing midnight when they arrive in Montreal.
Luckily the family has relatives in Quebec who can collect them at the airport and put them up overnight. Shortly after midnight in the Montreal airport, Sakr reschedules their connection to Toronto to the afternoon so they can catch up on sleep.
The family flies Jan. 2 from Montreal to Toronto. They hire an Uber to carry them to the Breslau airport where they collect their parked car a day late. They drive home to Hamilton.
It has taken 36 hours through three airports to get home. Their tired toddler has not stopped throwing tantrums. People have asked the family how their vacation went.
“We can’t remember anything good about the trip because it ended badly,” Sakr said.
Sakr has received refunds from Flair and Swoop for cancelled tickets. This leaves the family facing about $2,500 in extra costs.
Flair is sorry about cancelling its flight to Breslau but could not return the family earlier than Jan. 15, spokesperson Mike Arnot said.
“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,” he said. “Hotel accommodations are not provided in this situation.”
Asking passengers to wait two weeks for a return flight meets Canadian regulations because Flair is classified as a small airline. However, a compensation claim could be pursued under international aviation rules.
Sakr figures Swoop sold four seats to her after it cancelled its flight, based on her recollection of events in Cancun. She wants the airline penalized for this.
Swoop says it cancelled its Toronto flight eight minutes after it sold seats to Sakr. “We sincerely apologize for the inconvenience,” spokesperson Julia Brunet said. She did not say why Swoop cancelled the flight.
Air Canada would not explain why it delayed its flight to Montreal, forcing an overnight layover. In a statement the airline said it follows all passenger regulations, deals with customers directly, and can’t comment on a specific case.
Sakr is pondering a complaint to the Canadian Transportation Agency which enforces passenger rights. It has a backlog of 33,000 cases.