Pas­sen­gers in hours-long Air Transat tar­mac de­lays de­scribe har­row­ing con­di­tions


Pas­sen­gers trapped aboard two Air Transat jets de­scribed hours on end of swel­ter­ing heat, a lack of wa­ter and the stench of vomit ear­lier this sum­mer as a fed­eral agency be­gan hear­ings Wed­nes­day into how their or­deal hap­pened in the first place.

Wit­nesses de­scribed see­ing flight at­ten­dants out­side on the Ot­tawa tar­mac tak­ing self­ies along­side one stranded plane amid wide­spread con­fu­sion over the July 31 de­lays — six hours in one case, five in the other — as well as fin­ger-point­ing af­ter­ward be­tween the air­line and air­port of­fi­cials in the na­tional cap­i­tal.

One by one, pas­sen­gers told mem­bers of the Cana­dian Trans­porta­tion Agency, the agency in­ves­ti­gat­ing the in­ci­dents, that they would have given any­thing to be al­lowed off the planes, even if only to face fur­ther de­lays or long drives home.

“Air Transat said that it’s the air­port of Ot­tawa, and Ot­tawa air­port says it is Air Transat who didn’t ask for help,” said Blaise Pas­cal Iruti­ngabo, one of the pas­sen­gers who en­dured try­ing con­di­tions dur­ing a six-hour de­lay.

“As a pas­sen­ger, we don’t know who to blame or who to talk to about what hap­pened.”

They de­scribed feel­ing treated like lug­gage by the air­line, rather than as hu­man be­ings, and ac­cused the car­rier of be­ing more con­cerned about get­ting the planes in the air than it was about the health and safety of its cus­tomers.

They ex­pressed frus­tra­tion at both the air­line and the air­port, say­ing they just want to know who should be held re­spon­si­ble.

Wed­nes­day’s tes­ti­mony marked the first of two days of hear­ings into whether the air­line broke its con­tract with pas­sen­gers. Both planes were orig­i­nally bound for Mon­treal — one from Brus­sels, the other from Rome — but were forced to re­di­rect to Ot­tawa due to weather con­di­tions.

Air Transat had asked to ad­dress the panel later Wed­nes­day, even though top of­fi­cials are sched­uled to tes­tify Thurs­day. Ot­tawa air­port of­fi­cials were also sched­uled to tes­tify later Wed­nes­day.

The pas­sen­gers said they were told re­peat­edly that they were not al­lowed off the planes be­cause cus­toms agents re­fused to let it hap­pen, even after food and bev­er­age sup­plies ran out and the air con­di­tion­ing failed on one of the planes.

Sev­eral other flights had to be rerouted dur­ing what the agency de­scribed as a peak pe­riod.

One pas­sen­ger aboard the Brus­sels flight di­alled 911 to get help, a de­ci­sion that the agency’s in­ves­ti­ga­tor said added to the de­lay in get­ting both planes off the ground.

Prior to the hear­ings, the in­ves­ti­ga­tor’s re­port found mul­ti­ple ar­eas of dis­pute be­tween the air­line, the air­port and the pri­vate op­er­a­tor that pro­vides ground ser­vices in Ot­tawa, a com­mon sit­u­a­tion at Cana­dian air­ports.

In Ot­tawa, the con­tract with the provider, First Air, doesn’t in­clude any ser­vice stan­dards.

The back­drop to the hear­ings is the fed­eral gov­ern­ment’s pro­posed air pas­sen­ger bill of rights, which it hopes to have made law by the end of the year.

Hear­ings on the bill, known as C-49, will start be­fore the House of Com­mons of­fi­cially re­sumes sit­ting after its sum­mer break.

How the air­line in­dus­try must re­spond to tar­mac de­lays is not the fo­cus of those hear­ings and in­stead will be dealt with after Par­lia­ment ap­proves the gov­ern­ment’s leg­is­la­tion.

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