Compensation prospects unclear for passengers appalled by Flair Airlines service | CBC News

Some passengers say they will never fly with Flair Airlines again after being stuck in the cabin for about 10 hours this week without any food or beverage, with the only available water being from the bathroom sink.

Their flight from Toronto was bound for Saskatoon Monday afternoon, but got delayed. When it initially reached Saskatoon’s airways, it turned around to Winnipeg, sat on the tarmac for about two hours without airline-provided food, then headed right back to Toronto. It disrupted plans for many.

“This is unprecedented customer service. I cannot recall an incident where air travelers were told to use water from the lavatory for refreshments anywhere in this country,” Duncan Dee, former chief operating officer for Air Canada, said Friday.

Dee said the airline “failed miserably on multiple points.”

Adam Serool was delayed by 33 hours by Flair. He says his only compensation was a bag of crackers. (Simoneandcamera)

Meanwhile, passengers headed from Saskatoon to Toronto got caught up in a ripple of delays. Adam Serool was delayed by 33 hours. The flight was supposed to leave on Monday evening. At first, it kept getting delayed until just before midnight.

“My wife and I were about to check in when we learned the flight was cancelled. Later, I got a text message that a flight is re-boarding and we showed up at 2 a.m. again, and there were many of us there waiting,” he said. “But there was no flight.”

Serool said the Flair booths at the airport were empty and no email communication was provided until Wednesday.

“We were kept in absolute darkness. I had a place to go to, but many were just sleeping on airport benches.”

‘A bag of crackers for compensation’: passenger

Serool said they were told the plane turned because weather conditions made it unsafe to land.

“It was just horrible customer service. I understand planes need to turn around for reasons and not every plane is on time, but the way passengers were treated in this instance is pretty appalling.”

A packet of chips sitting in a lap.
Adam Serool says they were not given any meal or hotel accommodation vouchers, just this packet of crackers. (Submitted by Adam Serool )

A resident of Waterdown, Ont., Serool has faced similar delays every time he flew out of Saskatoon with Flair. Serool said he would try to seek compensation for his flight.

“There was no meal or hotel voucher given to us. Many people were left high and dry,” he said.

“They gave us a bag of crackers for compensation. It was an empty gesture.”

He said he does not intend to fly with the carrier again.

‘Flair owes compensation’: former Air Canada COO

CBC obtained an email Flair Airlines sent to passengers three days ago, which apologized for the wait and said that despite the flight being delayed for more than nine hours, flyers would not be compensating because of the weather conditions.

On Thursday, Flair told CBC News in a statement that it would provide “appropriate compensation,” but it is unclear what that means. On Friday, a passenger told CBC their compensation claim had just been denied.

Air Passenger Protection Regulations (APPR) state that small airlines have to provide passengers with at least $500 if their flight is delayed by at least nine hours. There’s a handful of exceptions to that rule, from security threats to weather problems.

Dee said the fact that Flair is telling passengers it was a safety issue “is a convenient excuse.”

“Flair has taken the position despite the fact that this was a situation within their control. I dispute their contention that this was a situation that they did not fully control,” he said.

“They fully controlled this situation by the very basic fact that they knew well in advance that the construction was taking place at Saskatoon Airport. They also had access to weather forecast information. The basic question is if Flair knew their aircraft was incapable of operating safely in Saskatoon, why did they take off from Toronto?”

A man in a black suit and purple tie.
Duncan Dee, former chief operating officer for Air Canada, says Flair Airlines has taken a very cavalier approach of selling tickets in Canada. (Submitted by Duncan Dee)

A spokesperson from the Saskatoon International Airport told CBC News Thursday that of more than 1,200 flights that have arrived and left from the airport since June 1, when construction began on a runway, three flights have been unable to land because of the renovations, all of which have been Flair Airlines flights.

“Flair has been extremely irresponsible by marketing and selling flights for which they didn’t obviously have an aircraft that could perform adequately,” Dee said.

“Flair owes compensation and a sincere apology to its passengers. Passengers can pursue Canadian Transport Agency for this if Flair is not giving any compensation.”

CBC News reached out to Flair requesting responses on compensation, its flight service and the next steps, but did not receive a response before the publication.

52,000 complaints in CTA backlog

Tom Oommen, director general responsible for regulatory affairs and communications at the Canadian Transportion Agency (CTA), said Friday that agency enforcement officers are looking into this situation to determine any violations of the APPR.

Oommen said in tarmac delays, airlines have to provide properly ventilated cabins, functional washrooms, and proper amounts of food and water.

“When a passenger makes a complaint and CTA finds the airline has failed to meet its obligations, CTA has the power to order the airline to provide what they have to or pay for other expenses incurred. That is the regulatory framework,” he said.

As it stands, regulations state that an airline must compensate a passenger for a flight disruption that is within its control and is not required for safety reasons.

A bald man clad in a suit.
Tom Oommen, director general responsible for regulatory affairs and communications at Canadian Transportation Agency, says his agency enforcement officers are looking into the Flair Airlines situation to determine any violations. (Submitted by Canadian Transportation Agency)

The government’s passed legislation last month aimed at closing loopholes that have allowed airlines to avoid compensating customers when flights are delayed or cancelled. In the past, airlines have used such loopholescausing the backlog at CTA to increase.

“Right now the backlog is at 52,000 complaints. These are both for domestic and international carriers,” he said.

“It’s important that passengers first attempt to resolve issues with the airline, but definitely if they don’t find satisfactory resolutions within 30 days, they should file a complaint with the agency.”

Oommen said the agency is seeking public inputs to write the next generation of APPR. He said the new complaint resolution process, slated to be implemented on Sep. 30, will allow them to expedite the process.

But for now, if the flight disruption is within airline control or within airline safety but required for safety, the airline is supposed to provide food and overnight accommodations, Oommen said.

‘A very cavalier approach’: Dee

On the same evening that Flair’s flight was cancelled, WestJet flights landed at the Saskatoon airport during circumstances that Flair deemed “adverse weather conditions.”

One WestJet aircraft that evening was a Boing 737 Max 8, the same model Flair uses.

But Dee said it is within a right of a commercial pilot to determine that a landing is unsafe.

“Every aircraft, even the same models, are configured differently. Some have different navigation aides that allows them to land in conditions which an exact same aircraft configured differently would be incapable of landing,” he said, noting other variables like cargo load would have been factors.

However, Dee said Flair was “negligent” in not communicating its capabilities of landing at the Saskatoon airport. He said the airline has a checkered history of similar instances.

As per the federal data from the CTA, Flair was Canada’s worst airline for complaintswith more than 20 per cent of its flights generating some sort of complaint, in the first quarter of this year.

“This airline has taken a very cavalier approach of selling tickets in this country,” he said.

“It’s clear to me Flair failed to care for these passengers.”

Air passengers spend about 10 hours in cabin of plane that never brings them to their destination

It’s summer vacation season, but for some air travellers, a recent experience with Flair Airlines was anything but. The passengers were heading to Saskatoon from Toronto when a series of unpleasant surprises left people angry and exhausted.

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