Passengers dismayed by Flair Airlines service to Saskatoon in 'traumatic' flight experience | CBC News

Some passengers say they were stuck in the cabin of a Flair Airlines flight for about 10 hours this week, fending off hunger and thirst by sharing snacks and drinking from the bathroom sink during a gruelling airline odyssey.

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

“They said there was no food or drink to purchase and they offered water once in 10 hours,” said Carmen Szabo, referencing one bottle of water that was poured for passengers. Other than that, flight attendants “were getting water from the bathroom,” she said.

Szabo called the experience for her and her 17-year-old daughter “traumatic.”

She said Flair gave her and her daughter each a $10 meal voucher at the Toronto airport, which she said was insufficient.

WATCH | Flair Airlines delays anger passengers, flummox experts: 

In an email, a Flair spokesperson said the flight did not land because adverse weather conditions made it unsafe.

“Weather can be unpredictable and uncontrollable sometimes,” the statement read. “We understand that this diversion may have caused inconvenience to our passengers, and we sincerely apologize for any disruption to travel plans.”

Will passengers be compensated?

Andrew Leeming, vice-president operational excellence with the Saskatoon International Airport, said wind direction, rain, the aircraft type and a shorter runway because of construction led the airline to divert its flight.

He said of the about 1,200 flights that have arrived and left from the airport since June, three have been unable to land because of ongoing runway renovations, all of which have been Flair Airlines flights.

Some airlines and airplanes also have different safety standards, Leeming said.

A man with a striped shirt
Andrew Leeming with the Saskatoon International Airport said the airport communicates with airlines about weather in the region but there was more rain than expected earlier this week. (Travis Reddaway/CBC)

Gabor Lukacs, the president of the Air Passenger Rights advocacy group, said he isn’t buying the airline’s excuses for not landing, because it should have known about the landing conditions before it left Toronto.

Lukacs said when airlines schedule flights, they have a responsibility to ensure the plane can land — and if there is anything obstructing the plane from landing, they can’t sell tickets for that flight.

He said Flair could be on the hook to compensate passengers with additional cash for meals and accommodations.

At first they said, ‘there’s a storm, we can’t land. Then they said, ‘the runway’s wet, we can’t land.’ Then they said, ‘the runway is under construction, we can’t land.’– Carmen Szabo, airline passenger

“It sounds so ludicrous that an airline would actually claim that they cannot land because of renovations that have been in place, in plan, for a long time. Something doesn’t add up here,” said Lukacs.

Flair said in its email the airline’s customer support team is working to provide affected passengers with “appropriate compensation.”

CBC obtained an email from Flair Airlines that was sent to passengers two days earlier, which apologized for the wait and said despite the flight being delayed for more than nine hours, the airline would not be compensating flyers because of “adverse weather conditions.”

Air Passenger Protection Regulations 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.

It was thundering and raining in Saskatoon late Monday night.

RCMP called as passengers started ‘yelling and cursing’

As she flew over Saskatoon, passenger Szabo learned they wouldn’t be landing, but she said the reason wasn’t clear to her.

“At first they said, ‘there’s a storm we can’t land.’ Then they said, ‘the runway’s wet, we can’t land.’ Then they said, ‘the runway is under construction, we can’t land,'” she said.

A close-up shot of a woman in a black shirt as she stands on a deck with plants and trees behind her.
Carmen Szabo and her 17-year-old daughter were among the passengers who were diverted from Saskatoon to Winnipeg in a experience she calls “traumatic.” (Pratyush Dayal/CBC)

After waiting in Winnipeg for 20 minutes, Szabo said she was told they were flying back to Toronto.

“That’s when everybody stood up and started screaming and yelling and cursing, ‘We’re not going back to Toronto.'”

Szabo said Flair employees told passengers their luggage wasn’t leaving the plane and it would be sent to Toronto. RCMP and security entered, said Szabo, who estimated about three-quarters of the passengers got off the plane.

In an email, RCMP said they were called to the airport to keep the peace after some passengers got upset.

“There were no issues and after some time the flight departed,” Mounties said.

However, Szabo said she stayed on the flight with her daughter and luggage. 

“People were helping each other. Like, my daughter was hungry and so this lady behind us said, ‘Well, I have a couple chocolate bars if you’d like them,'” Szabo said.

Duncan Dee, former chief operating officer for Air Canada, called the situation an “absolute failure” on the part of Flair Airlines.

He was also shocked to hear that people had been drinking water from the bathroom, which is typically not potable, he said.

Dee said the issue he sees is not that the pilot did not land the plane in what was deemed a potentially unsafe situation — noting all airplanes are configured differently and he’s not second-guessing the pilot — but “that Flair failed to properly plan for this ahead of time.”

The passengers left Toronto on a second flight early Wednesday morning and landed in Saskatoon at about 4 a.m. CST, according to the Saskatoon International Airport.

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