no bones about it

Air Transat pas­sen­ger won’t roll over af­ter ruff treat­ment

Ottawa Sun - - FRONT PAGE - vpilieci@post­media.com vIto PIlIeCI

While other pas­sen­gers on Air Transat TS157 from Brussels were deal­ing with panic at­tacks, dif­fi­culty breath­ing and cry­ing chil­dren, Maryanne Zéhil had an added anx­i­ety: She was wor­ried about her furry, four-legged friend, who was locked away in the plane’s cargo hold.

Zéhil de­scribes the scene as pan­de­mo­nium: Af­ter a six­hour de­lay on the Ot­tawa air­port tar­mac on July 31, she says, peo­ple were plead­ing with Air Transat staff mem­bers to let them get off the plane. Her frus­tra­tion had an ex­tra wrin­kle, as she in­quired about her bor­der col­lie, Zara.

“It was night­mar­ish,” the Mon­trealer said Fri­day.

“We were trapped and when­ever I went to talk to any­one re­spon­si­ble, all they would say is, ’We can­not do any­thing,’“she said. “That was not help­ful at all. The panic be­comes more ... Now that I am here and we’re OK, I know we weren’t dy­ing. But, at that mo­ment we were about two sec­onds away from a catas­tro­phe.”

With the mem­ory still fresh, Zéhil scoffed Fri­day at news that Air Transat is of­fer­ing pas­sen­gers a $400 pay­ment for the ex­pe­ri­ence.

“It’s a joke,” she said. “Come on!”

Zéhil says she’s look­ing for a full re­fund from the com­pany for both her and Zara. She said the air­line would need to of­fer her at least $4,000 to make things right.

Two Air Transat flights, one from Rome and the other from Brussels (TS157), were among 20 flights di­verted to the Ot­tawa Mac­Don­ald-Cartier air­port that day be­cause of se­vere weather.

Pas­sen­gers were stranded aboard both parked planes for hours.

Pas­sen­gers on board TS157 started re­ceiv­ing emails from Air Transat on Thurs­day evening, stat­ing that the com­pany will be mail­ing cheques for $400 as com­pen­sa­tion for the or­deal they ex­pe­ri­enced.

The email makes it clear that Air Transat is not ac­knowl­edg­ing any le­gal re­spon­si­bil­ity in the mat­ter. The email from the air­line states, “We would like to of­fer you a mon­e­tary com­pen­sa­tion val­ued at $400 CAD as a bona fide ges­ture demon­strat­ing our deep em­pa­thy. For this pur­pose, we would be grate­ful if you could con­firm your postal ad­dress.”

More 330 pas­sen­gers en­dured swel­ter­ing con­di­tions while their plane sat for more than six hours on the tar­mac at the Ot­tawa Air­port. The air­craft’s air con­di­tioner wasn’t func­tion­ing and tem­per­a­tures out­side the plane hit 28 C.

At one point, a pas­sen­ger phoned 911 on their cell­phone, sum­mon­ing paramedics, po­lice and of­fi­cials from the Ot­tawa Air­port Au­thor­ity.

It was af­ter those emer­gency re­spon­ders had as­sessed the pas­sen­gers and deemed that none of them was suf­fer­ing from a med­i­cal emer­gency that Zéhil was able to get the at­ten­tion of some­one from the air­port. Air­port staff ul­ti­mately opened the plane’s cargo hatch to check on Zara, who was lonely and thirsty, but other­wise in good health.

Eric Knut­sen, as­so­ciate pro­fes­sor in the fac­ulty of law at Queen’s Univer­sity, said it ap­pears the air­line’s of­fer of $400 is be­ing made as a good­will ges­ture to cus­tomers.

The $400 pay­ment to pas­sen­gers is be­ing char­ac­ter­ized as “com­pen­sa­tion” for the in­ci­dent and not as a set­tle­ment of­fer from the com­pany.

“It’s free money,” said Knut­sen. “It looks like no strings at­tached. Noth­ing in there looks like it’s say­ing it’s pre­clud­ing peo­ple’s right to sue.”

Knut­sen said, with­out agree­ing to a set­tle­ment, the pay­ment comes with­out strings. Worse case sce­nario, if a law­suit or set­tle­ment is pro­posed in the fu­ture, the amount that pays out may be re­duced by $400 for any­one who cashes Air Transat’s cheque.

He also said the value of the cheque seems to mysterious. The com­pany’s “Con­tract of Car­riage,” which spells out its re­spon­si­bil­i­ties to pas­sen­gers, makes no men­tion of spe­cific mon­e­tary pay­ments for flight de­lays.

Calls to Air Transat to ex­plain the rea­son­ing be­hind the com­pen­sa­tion and how the com­pany came up with the $400 fig­ure were not re­turned.

The com­pany’s email to af­fected pas­sen­gers, con­tin­ued

“It’s a joke. Come on!” Frus­trated Air Transat pas­sen­ger Maryanne Ze­hil

its state­ments to date that the sit­u­a­tion in Ot­tawa was beyond its con­trol. It states in its mes­sage that due to low fuel lev­els, the aux­il­iary gen­er­a­tor pow­er­ing the plane’s air con­di­tioner failed one-hour be­fore de­part­ing Ot­tawa.

“We re­gret that you had to ex­pe­ri­ence these un­pleas­ant mo­ments aboard one of our planes . ... un­for­tu­nately, we have no con­trol over such as ex­cep­tional sit­u­a­tion and can not pre­dict its du­ra­tion,” reads the email to cus­tomers. “As you know, the vi­o­lent thun­der­storms in Montreal forced some 20 air­craft, in­clud­ing Air Transat, to di­vert their flights to Ot­tawa await­ing the re­open­ing of the run­ways at the Montreal-Trudeau air­port.”

The Canada Trans­porta­tion Agency has launched an in­quiry into the in­ci­dent. It will col­lect ev­i­dence about the is­sues af­fect­ing the de­lay and de­ter­mine whether the treat­ment of pas­sen­gers on the two flights was in line with the air­line’s obli­ga­tions. If it’s de­ter­mined that the air­line did not live up its obli­ga­tions re­gard­ing the pas­sen­gers, the agency can or­der cor­rec­tive mea­sures.

ALLEN MCINNIS

allen mCINNIS/POST­MEDIA NET­WORK

Maryanne Ze­hil and her dog Zara re­lax at their Montreal home. Not only was Ze­hil trapped on the in­fa­mous Air Transat flight on July 31. Zara was locked away in the plane’s cargo hold.

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