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‘We could have done better,’ president of Sunwing tells MPs investigating holiday travel chaos

OTTAWA — The president of Sunwing Airlines, which left hundreds of Canadians stranded in Mexico and cancelled all flights to Saskatchewan over Christmas, apologized Thursday and acknowledged the airlines failed.

(C) Provided by National Post Sunwing passengers line up for check-in at Cancun International Airport on Dec.

27, 2022, after many flights to Canada had been cancelled due to severe winter weather.

“The bottom line is, we know we could have done better, said Len Corrado. Corrado is testifying today before a Parliamentary committee investigating the delays and cancellations in travel over the holidays. The MPs are hearing from several airline executives but focused much of their ire on Sunwing.

The company has now received 7,000 complaints from customers over the holiday travel season, executives testified. Corrado apologized for having “failed to deliver to the level that we had expected and that Canadians had expected from us over this holiday season.” He blamed the issues on massive winter storms across the country, which “included the virtual shutdown of Vancouver’s airport, and caused major delays in Ontario and Quebec,” airport infrastructure issues, and the denial of an application to bring in 63 foreign pilots, who would have been based in Regina and Saskatchewan.

Executives from Sunwing, Air Canada and Westjet are appearing before the House of Commons transport committee this morning. It will also hear from the Toronto, Montreal, and Vancouver airport authorities, as well as Transport Minister Omar Alghabra. Corrado promised MPs the company would “fully comply” with its obligations under the Air Passenger Protection Regulations, which outline obligations for compensating customers for delays and cancellations.

Customer advocates have called for the government to strengthen those regulations, such as by ensuring customers are compensated automatically instead of having to apply for it. Conservative MP Mark Strahl asked Sunwing why the airline kept booking flights when it didn’t have the pilots. “How did you possibly book travel for Canadians when you did not have crews or planes lined up to service them?

This is a catastrophic failure, and the stories are heartbreaking, of people cancelling weddings, losing trips of a lifetime, just abruptly pulling out of an entire province,” he said. Corrado answered the company “had a certain amount of assurances from our legal team” that its application to bring it foreign pilots would be successful. Once it learned that wasn’t the case, it rebuilt its schedule but then but then hit further problems because of the storms.

NDP MP Taylor Bachrach read out a letter from the mother of a passenger who was stuck in Mexico with no reliable communication from Sunwing and who could not afford to book a different return flight, and who was offered £150 in compensation. Corrado said that story was “unacceptable.” Bachrach also questioned Air Canada executives about the case of passengers on one plane who were stuck on the tarmac for 11 hours, despite regulations that set a time limit of just under four hours.

Kevin O’Connor, vice-president of system operations control at Air Canada, responded that there was no way to safely take the passengers back to a gate. “The airport could not keep up with proper apron clearing. Employees could not tow aircraft. We could not disembark using air stairs onto an open surface and transport the passengers to the terminal,” he said.

“Nobody wanted us to have customers on board for 11 hours.”

Bacharach responded he was “somewhat disturbed to hear that there was no plan to safely get those passengers off the plane.”

More to come…