Inquiry Officer's Report - Sunwing Flights between April 14 and 18, 2018
Table of contents
Case no. 18-02263
October 25, 2018
Prepared by: Jean-Michel Gagnon
INQUIRY INTO DELAYS, CANCELLATIONS, TARMAC DELAYS, AND LOST, DELAYED AND DAMAGED BAGGAGE AFFECTING ALL INTERNATIONAL SUNWING FLIGHTS SCHEDULED TO FLY TO OR FROM TORONTO LESTER B. PEARSON INTERNATIONAL AIRPORT OR MONTRÉAL PIERRE ELLIOTT TRUDEAU INTERNATIONAL AIRPORT BETWEEN APRIL 14 AND 18, 2018, FOR WHICH COMPLAINTS HAVE BEEN FILED BY PASSENGERS WITH THE CANADIAN TRANSPORTATION AGENCY.
Appointment of inquiry officer and scope of investigation
On April 25, 2018, the Canadian Transportation Agency (hereinafter “the Agency”) launched an inquiry into delays, cancellations, tarmac delays, as well as lost, delayed and damaged baggage affecting Sunwing Airlines Inc. (hereinafter “Sunwing”) flights to or from Toronto Lester B. Pearson International Airport (hereinafter “Toronto Pearson Airport”) between April 14 and 18, 2018. On that date, more than eighty (80) complaints were filed by passengers with the Agency regarding twenty-three (23) Sunwing flights; the incidents received media coverage. The preliminary information available suggests that systemic issues may have affected these Sunwing flights.
In order to determine whether the way in which Sunwing treated its passengers was consistent with its conditions of carriage for international flights, and whether these conditions are reasonable, the Agency, pursuant to subsection 38(1) of the Canada Transportation Act, S.C. (1996),c. 10, as amended, appointed Jean-Michel Gagnon, an employee of the Agency and a designated enforcement officer located in Montréal, Quebec, to gather evidence from the affected passengers, the air carrier and other parties concerned, and to summarize this evidence.
To carry out this mandate, the Inquiry Officer is responsible for conducting interviews, collecting written statements from individuals and organizations directly concerned with or affected by the incidents, and obtaining information or documents relevant to the investigation.
The mandate entrusted to the Inquiry Officer does not include the facilitation of complaints from passengers. Although Letter Decision No. LET-A-30-2018 specifies that these complaints would be dealt with over the course of the inquiry, they are handled through the usual dispute resolution processes by officers at the Agency’s Air and Accessibility Alternate Dispute Resolution Directorate. The Inquiry Officer’s review of these complaints nonetheless enables him to identify common facts and/or causes, and to put together an overview representative of the situation experienced by the hundreds of affected passengers.
To that end, the individuals or organizations directly concerned with or affected by the incidents had until May 31, 2018, to communicate with the Inquiry Officer, of their own accord, so that he could collect their statements. Otherwise, the Inquiry Officer may exercise all of the powers, duties and functions described in section 39 of the Canada Transportation Act.
On May 2, 2018, by way of Letter Decision No. LET-A-31-2018, the Agency extended the scope of the inquiry to Sunwing international flights scheduled to fly to or from Montréal Pierre Elliott Trudeau International Airport (hereinafter “Montréal-Trudeau Airport”) between April 14 and 18, 2018, for which complaints were filed by passengers with the Agency. The extended inquiry was also conducted by the Inquiry Officer in accordance with the above-described provisions.
The Inquiry Officer hereby reports to the Agency the factual evidence gathered related to the circumstances surrounding the aforementioned incidents.
On Saturday, April 14, and Sunday, April 15, 2018, a storm brought rain, freezing rain and ice pellets to the Greater Toronto Area, affecting operations at Toronto Pearson Airport. The operating conditions on the tarmac were hazardous, causing operational delays. The Greater Toronto Airports Authority (GTAA) calls for a 60% reduction on aircraft movements and asked all air carriers to modify their operational plans accordingly.
Sunwing maintained all flights as scheduled during this period. Its ground and terminal service provider, Swissport, was unable to provide the minimum service required for operations. In the late afternoon of Saturday, April 14, delays and other failures began to be observed. The operational situation deteriorated during the day on Sunday, April 15, and the days of Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday (April 16, 17 and 18) were spent returning operations to their normal pace. During this period, one hundred and sixty-one (161) Sunwing flights flew to or from Toronto Pearson Airport. Sixty-two (62) of those flights were the subject of complaints and/or notifications to the Agency.
The facts gathered during the inquiry establish the following four (4) systemic causes:
- Severe weather conditions
- Staff shortage at Swissport
- Widespread communication issues
- Sunwing’s business model
The inquiry revealed no causes or factors other than a domino effect stemming from systemic issues at Toronto Pearson Airport to explain the many incidents experienced by passengers returning to Toronto or those flying to or from Montréal-Trudeau Airport.
At Montréal-Trudeau Airport, seventy-nine (79) Sunwing flights were operated during this period, thirty-four (34) of which were the subject of complaints and/or notifications to the Agency.
As for the conditions of carriage set out in Sunwing’s tariff, the inquiry identified incidents related to the following issues:
- Delays of more than four (4) hours
- Delays of more than eight (8) hours requiring an overnight stay
- Tarmac delays
- Lost, delayed or damaged baggage
- Communication issues
The inquiry was conducted in six (6) phases with time overlaps.
The first phase, from April 25 to May 2, consisted in gaining familiarity with the complex operations inherent to managing Toronto Pearson Airport, particularly those relating to snow removal, aircraft deicing, tarmac traffic management, gate assignment, baggage carousel management, refuelling and so on. To do this, a number of relevant on-site visits were made in the company of representatives from the GTAA. The purpose of these activities was to provide the Inquiry Officer with the tools he would need to properly understand, interpret and assess the incident-related facts. At the same time, from April 25 to May 31, complaints, notifications and/or testimonies (hereinafter “testimonies”) from affected passengers were collected and recorded by officers from the Agency’s Air and Accessibility Alternate Dispute Resolution Directorate. A total of five hundred and sixty-eight (568) passenger testimonies were considered by the Inquiry Officer.
The second phase, from around May 2 to 13, involved identifying and meeting with individuals or organizations directly concerned with or affected by the incidents, excluding passengers, as well as individuals with information useful to the inquiry. Since Flight Nos. SWG302 and SWG715 experienced long tarmac delays, they were selected for more thorough review. Given the wide scope of the investigation, it was determined that a specific understanding of these flights could probably shed light or provide useful information regarding other flights that experienced similar incidents.
During the third phase, which ran from May 10 to July 27, the Inquiry Officer conducted interviews and gathered testimonies, computer data, documents, information, statements and other details useful to the inquiry. During this phase, Sunwing representatives were required to produce, in a electronic spreadsheet, all factual information pertaining to each flight that flew during this period to or from the Toronto Pearson or Montréal-Trudeau airports. It was also during this phase that the crews of flights SWG302 and SWG715 were interviewed. It should be noted that the Inquiry Officer intentionally chose to proceed with these interviews without first having consulted the testimonies of the affected passengers in order to maximize the objectiveness of the Inquiry Officer’s assessment of the facts presented; only the media coverage available was consulted ahead of time.
During the fourth phase, from around May 28 to June 22, the Inquiry Officer read and analyzed each passenger testimonial collected. Each piece of information submitted was analyzed and compared against already gathered information, specifically data concerning each flight provided by Sunwing. Contradictory or inconsistent elements were identified and noted. Each passenger received a personalized response from the Inquiry Officer by e-mail either requesting additional information or thanking him or her for contributing to the inquiry. Information submitted by passengers at a later time was gathered and considered until August 10, 2018.
The fifth phase, from June 27 to July 9, entailed reviewing and looking further into each contradictory or inconsistent element with Sunwing representatives. Although some inconsistent elements remained, it took three (3) days of validating information with Sunwing representatives to finally obtain confirmed and adequate data.
Lastly, during the sixth phase from July 10 to August 17, the Inquiry Officer analyzed all of the facts gathered and produced this report.
Individuals or organizations directly concerned with or affected by the incidents
Some five hundred and sixty-eight (568) testimonies, complaints and/or notifications were submitted to the Agency regarding Sunwing flights for the period in question. According to the information provided by Sunwing representatives, a total of sixteen thousand two hundred and fifty-five (16,255) passengers travelled aboard the ninety-six (96) affected flights.
All the testimonies were read and considered in this inquiry. In some cases, certain passengers were asked for additional information. Given the high volume of correspondence received, nearly all exchanges with passengers were via e-mail.
The testimonies of passengers filed in the Fusion database of the Agency’s Air and Accessibility Alternate Dispute Resolution Directorate remain accessible and available for consultation.
Sunwing is a Canadian air carrier duly licensed with the Agency registered under carrier no. S527. Its headquarter is located on 27 Fasken Drive in Etobicoke, Ontario. Sunwing holds domestic licence no. 050128, non-scheduled international air service licence no. 050129 and fourteen (14) scheduled international air service licences, as follows:
- 060017 – United States of America
- 060073 – Jamaica
- 060095 – Dominican Republic
- 080005 – Saint Lucia
- 080031 – Antigua and Barbuda
- 080106 – Barbados
- 080107 – Mexico
- 100037 – Cuba
- 100039 – European Community and its Member States
- 110072 – Aruba
- 110073 – Bahamas
- 140008 – Costa Rica
- 140009 – Curaçao
- 140010 – Sint Maarten (Dutch part)
Sunwing operates a fleet of forty-two (42) aircraft, of which forty (40) are Boeing 737-800 and two (2) are Boeing 737 MAX 8. All of the above licences are specific to the “large aircraft” class under subsection 4(1) of the Air Transportation Regulations.
The facts of the case stem from air services operated under the authority of international licences and—obviously—pursuant to international tariff CTA(A) No. 3 (hereinafter “the Sunwing tariff”).
For the purposes of this inquiry, the following Sunwing representatives were met with and/or interviewed. Seven (7) separate meetings were required to that end:
- Mark Williams, President
- Christina Groth, Vice-President, Operations
- Mark Thompson, Director, Operations
- Gord Kenny, Director, Airport Services
- Julien Cayot, Captain of Flight No. SWG302
- George Acs, Captain of Flight No. SWG715
- Sophie Levasseur, Cabin Safety Manager on Flight No. SWG302
- Jill Bukovac, Cabin Safety Manager on Flight No. SWG715
- Marcella Howley, Vice-President, Inflight Operations
Law clerk Hermana Botter and counsel Ted Nobbs, Q.C., facilitated these meetings.
On July 27, 2018, Ted Nobbs submitted an interim statement on behalf of Sunwing as part of this inquiry. This statement is available in Appendix 1.
Swissport Canada Inc. (hereinafter “Swissport”) is a subsidiary of Swissport International Ltd., a service provider for air carriers and airports. Established notably at Toronto Pearson Airport where it employs approximately two thousand one hundred and thirty (2,130) employees, Swissport provides both ground handling (aircraft guidance, towing, baggage loading, unloading and sorting, etc.) and boarding gate handling (passenger and baggage check-in, communication with customers, boarding, etc.) services.
Under the service agreement between Sunwing and Swissport, Swissport employees who work inside the terminal and are in contact with the public are responsible for representing the air carrier and are the main points of contact for travellers. As such, they wear Sunwing jackets and pins. The testimonies gathered tend to show that it is unlikely for an occasional traveller to be able to tell them apart from the air carrier’s employees.
In a normal situation, the tasks of Swissport employees are defined, known, foreseeable and documented. In irregular situations, Swissport employees must report to their immediate supervisor, who consults with the Swissport Passenger Services Manager, if required, to establish the sequence and/or nature of tasks at hand. It is the latter who, if need be, contacts the Sunwing Manager on Duty at the airport to obtain instructions or determine how to proceed.
The following Swissport representatives were interviewed as part of the inquiry. Four (4) separate meetings were required:
- Joerg Sutter, Chief Operating Officer – Canada and Vice-President Operations – YYZ (Interim)
- Harjovan Bamrah, Corporate Manager, Human Resources
- Amandeep Chahal, Manager, Human Resources
- Sheldon McGibbon, Manager, Passenger Services
On May 23, 2018, at the request of the Inquiry Officer, Amandeep Chahal provided two (2) photographs from an employee showing the state of the tarmac and some of the ground equipment on Sunday, April 15, 2018. These photos are available in Appendix 2.
On June 28, 2018, for the purpose of this inquiry, Joerg Sutter submitted a letter relating the events and actions taken by Swissport. This letter is available in Appendix 3. At the request of the Inquiry Officer, he also provided a document entitled “WG302 / 14th April 2018 – WG715 / 15th April Incident Report Breakdown” (Appendix 4) as well as a copy of the service contract between Swissport and Sunwing (Appendix 5).
The Greater Toronto Airports Authority operates and manages Toronto Pearson Airport, the largest and busiest airport in Canada.
The GTAA is mainly responsible for maintaining runways, tarmacs and manoeuvering surfaces, for aircraft and vehicle traffic on the tarmac, and for managing the assignment of boarding gates and bridges. It also issues operating licences to companies such as Swissport that provide ground aviation services.
The GTAA also operates the Central Deicing Facility. This facility has six (6) deicing areas that can each accommodate one (1) wide-body aircraft or two (2) narrow-body aircraft. At peak times, forty-six (46) mobile deicing units can be in service.
For this inquiry, the following GTAA representatives were met with and/or interviewed. Six (6) separate meetings were required to that end:
- Chris Miles, Director, Operations, Aviation Services
- Chris Mitchell, Associate Director, Airport Operations, Aviation Services
- Lorie McKee, Director, Public Affairs and Stakeholder Relations
- Scott B. Armstrong, Director, External Communications
- Michael Mendel, Manager, Government Affairs and Stakeholder Relations
- Robert Matas, Airport Duty Manager
- James Weckerle, Supervisor, Deicing Operations
On May 9, 2018, at the request of the Inquiry Officer, Christ Mitchell provided a detailed map of Toronto Pearson Airport. This map is available for reference in Appendix 6.
On June 24, 2018, Chris Mitchell provided a copy of an internal presentation entitled “Weather Event April 13-18 COSPA Summary.” This document is available for reference in Appendix 7.
On August 7, 2018, Chris Mitchell provided on behalf of the GTAA a document entitled “CTA Summary of Wx Event – April 2018 – FINAL Version” summarizing GTAA actions before, during and after the storm. This document is available in Appendix 8.
Pierre Payette was interviewed in a personal capacity on May 22, 2018. Mr. Payette was Vice-President Operations – YYZ at Swissport during the events in question and, as such, had the authority to manage Swissport operations at Toronto Pearson Airport. Since or around May 4, 2018, Mr. Payette no longer works for Swissport and was replaced by Joerg Sutter.
Peel Regional Police
Peel Regional Police is the service assigned to providing police response at Toronto Pearson Airport. Police officers are posted there permanently and respond to prevent crime, keep the peace and protect the public. There is a service counter in Terminal 1. A meeting was held with Officer Grant (Badge No. 2048) on May 10, 2018.
At Toronto Pearson Airport, Menzies Aviation provides various services to airline companies, including full aircraft refuelling services. It operates mainly pumping trucks that can connect to the underground piping system in order to refuel aircraft. Where necessary, it also uses tanker trucks that bring fuel directly to the aircraft when there is no access well nearby. On May 16, 2018, Steve Chamczuk, Terminal 3 Manager – YYZ was interviewed.
Brief statement of facts
The facts submitted for review by the Agency’s members are contained in the testimonies, briefs, statements and other similar documents included in the appendices. The following key facts constitute a brief summary for the purposes of an overall assessment.
Systemic Causes And Consequences
Letter Decision No. LET-A-30-2018 refers to possible “systemic issues” that may have affected Sunwing flights. The facts gathered during the inquiry establish the following systemic causes:
Severe weather conditions
The storm in question began on Saturday, April 14, 2018, at around 9:00 a.m. with a mix of rain and ice pellets. The precipitation continued until around 8:00 p.m., alternating mainly between freezing rain and ice pellets. During the day, 5.6 mm of rain, drizzle, freezing rain and/or hail as well as 4.2 mm of snow and/or ice pellets fell at Toronto Pearson Airport, for total precipitation of 35.8 mm. The temperature varied from -4.4°C to 3.8°C, for an average of -0.3°C.
The precipitation resumed on Sunday, April 15, at around 6:00 a.m., this time consisting mostly of ice pellets. It changed to freezing rain at around 3:00 p.m. and to rain at around 9:00 p.m. This time, there was 15.2 mm of liquid precipitation and 3.8 cm of snow and/or ice pellets, for a total of 28.2 mm of precipitation recorded on the ground. The temperature ranged from -4.0°C to 0.8°C, for an average of -1.6°C. It should be noted that wind gusts of up to 74 km/h were also recorded.
The rain then eased gradually and ended on Monday, April 16, 2018, at around 7:00 p.m. That day, 18.6 mm of liquid precipitation and an unmeasurable quantity (less than 0.2 mm) of solid precipitation were recorded on the ground. The ambient temperature rose to an average of 1.9°C.
The data for Tuesday and Wednesday (April 17 and 18) do not show weather conditions with a significant impact on airport or aviation activities.
Moreover, data for Montréal-Trudeau Airport for the period covered by the inquiry do not show any weather events of a similar magnitude, and the weather conditions were confirmed to have had a minimal impact on airport activities.
Archived weather data for Toronto Pearson Airport are available in Appendix 9. Two (2) photographs showing the state of the tarmac and some of the ground equipment on Sunday, April 15, are available in Appendix 2. Lastly, a presentation provided by the GTAA detailing radar observations on April 14 and 15, 2018, is available in Appendix 7.
The severe weather conditions that occurred on April 14 and 15, 2018, at Toronto Pearson Airport were anticipated. Local media had reported on this storm since Wednesday, April 11, 2018. The GTAA, in particular, e-mailed weather advisories to various stakeholders through its “ZZG-Everbridge Administrator” distribution group. Sunwing and Swissport are on this distribution list.
Nonetheless, it appears that the weather conditions and their effects on operations were more severe than expected. The following causalities and effects were identified:
- Hazardous road conditions in the Greater Toronto Area, increasing lateness or absenteeism;
- Intense weather conditions making some passengers uneasy;
- Hazardous operating conditions on the tarmac, causing operational delays;
- Shortage of hotel rooms available near the airport;
- Harsh outdoor working conditions, leading to increased fatigue and reduced capacity to retain Swissport operating staff, particularly at the end of their work shift;
- Implementation by the GTAA of a significant contingency plan, however ill-adapted to the nature of Sunwing’s operations;
- Insufficient operational adjustments by all key players (Swissport, Sunwing and the GTAA) in real time, not fostering a smooth recovery of operations for Sunwing.
Staff shortage at Swissport
Swissport, as a service provider for Sunwing, was unable to sufficiently staff its work shifts in order to meet the operational needs of its client or clients. This finding applies to both ground employees (under the wings) and employees working inside the terminal (above the wings). Because of this shortage, the employees who were present soon became overloaded with tasks. On Sunday, April 15, in particular, some overwhelmed employees abandoned their posts.
Pierre Payette, then Vice-President Operations – YYZ at Swissport, had been on vacation since Friday, April 6, 2018. He was scheduled to return on Monday, April 16. In his absence, Swissport management did not appoint an interim replacement, in all likelihood relying on sectoral managers alone for the proper conduct of operations. Mr. Payette was out of the country and arrived in the middle of the storm when the aircraft on which he was a passenger landed at Toronto Pearson Airport on Saturday, April 14, at around 9:00 p.m.
The inquiry revealed that Swissport did not offer its employees financial incentives (higher wages, bonuses, etc.) in preparation for the weekend. Yet, such incentives are common and expected by employees. Swissport stated that it wanted to distance itself from such practices and that the recent winter, specifically December 2017, was particularly costly in that regard. Nonetheless, this was the first time that this administrative strategy was used, and the information obtained shows that this apparently contributed to a certain climate of disengagement by employees towards their employer.
Absenteeism on Saturday, April 14, 2018, was 9.8%. As mentioned earlier, some employees who reported for their shift on Saturday quickly became overwhelmed. Absenteeism increased during the evening/night shift, and the employees who were already present were asked to stay. On the morning of Sunday, April 15, those same employees were again asked to stay. Many left and this lack of backup clearly contributed to the shortcomings on Sunday, April 15, when absenteeism rose to 21.3%. The following main causalities and effects were identified:
On the tarmac
- Operational delays in baggage loading/unloading
- In some cases, an inability to unload baggage from aircraft after landing
- Lack of or delayed final guidance of aircraft towards gates or bridges
- Chronic delays during aircraft push back manoeuvres prior to departure
- Lack of or delayed delivery of mobile stairs
- Inability to resupply food or water to aircraft waiting on the tarmac
- In some cases, inability to obtain a gate or bridge from the GTAA
- Delays in the transmission of strategic and operational information necessary for the proper conduct of operations
Inside the terminal
- Task overload
- Delays in the transmission of strategic and operational information necessary for the proper conduct of operations
- Erroneous information transmitted to passengers
- In some cases, behaviour towards and/or communications for passengers ill-adapted to the circumstances
- Shortcomings in managing meal vouchers
- Many gate changes
- Long line-ups and/or operational delays during passenger check-in
- In some cases, inability to manage baggage check-in
- Shortcomings in responsibilities towards individuals with disabilities
It is important to point out that these absenteeism rates were reasonably influenced by public notices issued by local authorities on April 14 and 15, 2018, particularly the mayor of Toronto and the Ontario Provincial Police regarding the critical state of the road network; it is common knowledge that these authority figures explicitly advised residents to stay at home and avoid any travel.
As for Monday, April 16, and Tuesday, April 17, 2018, the absenteeism rates were 16.2% and 10.5%, respectively.
When he landed at Toronto Pearson Airport right in the middle of the events of Saturday, April 14, Mr. Payette quickly realized the magnitude of the situation. He stated that he immediately contacted the Swissport Manager on Duty, Brendan Powell, and advised him that financial incentives double the regular rate of pay were to be offered to all employees per shift. The subsequent facts and aforementioned absenteeism rates tend to show that this initiative was unsuccessful.
As listed above, in some cases Swissport was unable to obtain a gate or bridge from the GTAA for Sunwing aircraft, which were instead directed to the Hotel zone, a remote parking area without a bridge or direct access to the terminal. In relation to this point, GTAA representatives explained that after noticing, at the end of the afternoon on Saturday, April 14, serious gate occupation issues stemming from Swissport’s operational delays, and after having determined that these issues were jeopardizing the proper assignment of gates to all air carriers, they decided not to assign gates or bridges to aircraft handled by Swissport until the latter was able to provide—or show that it would soon be able to provide—a ground crew.
Widespread communication issues
Many communication issues were identified at various levels, divided below into two (2) main categories:
a) Between Swissport, on the one hand, and Sunwing and the GTAA, on the other hand
Sunwing representatives stated that on Saturday, April 14, and on Sunday, April 15, 2018, Swissport officials did not adequately inform them of the critical operational situation occurring on the tarmac at Toronto Pearson Airport, particularly the clear lack of staff.
They allege that this breakdown in communication prevented them from, among other things, effectively scheduling flights planned for Sunday, April 15, to reduce pressure on Toronto Pearson Airport upon the arrival of aircraft.
At Sunwing, the Operations Control Centre (hereinafter “the Sunwing OCC”) is an integrated operational unit in charge of managing and coordinating the execution of the daily schedule as planned. The Sunwing OCC has dedicated staff for making operational decisions regarding aviation activities in real time. Its role also includes managing irregular operations and commanding operational responses as well as liaising with the company’s departments and suppliers. It is located in Sunwing’s main administrative building in Etobicoke, Ontario.
The Sunwing OCC is typically kept informed of operations at Toronto Pearson Airport terminals by the Traffic Manager on duty at the Swissport Operations Control Centre. This is a Swissport employee dedicated entirely to Sunwing airport activities. In irregular situations, the Sunwing OCC also obtains strategic and operational information from the Sunwing Manager on Duty and/or its pilots.
Once in possession of information about an irregular situation, the Sunwing OCC serves as the hub for this information for the company’s various departments, and coordinates the necessary action.
During the events in question, the testimonies received and heard tend to demonstrate that some important information was not properly transmitted to the Sunwing OCC. To illustrate the foregoing, one such event should be mentioned, which occurred on April 15, 2018. The GTAA Manager on Duty who, after having noticed a shortage of Sunwing/Swissport representatives at the airport and that many customers were looking for answers, contacted the Sunwing OCC and asked that employees from headquarters come to the airport to manage the situation. In theory, this observation should have been made and conveyed by Swissport, not the GTAA.
Furthermore, the GTAA representatives stated that Swissport did not keep them formally informed of its operational delays and the obvious lack of staff, and that it was through their own observations and the information gathered from third parties in the late afternoon of Saturday, April 14, that they realized the magnitude of the situation. It was not until Sunday, April 15, that Pierre Payette—who had been on vacation at the time—exchanged text messages with Chris Miles, Director, Operations, Aviation Services, regarding the difficult situation on the tarmac and the absenteeism rate at Swissport.
b) Between Sunwing and its customers
Without exception, all passenger testimonies referred to the issues they had with communications from Sunwing and the Swissport employees representing the air carrier. Both relational and/or operational issues are detailed in the testimonies.
Passengers’ main complaints concerning the air carrier are the following. It should be noted that none of these apply to all of the affected passengers:
- Lack of text or email communication when the flight was delayed, despite the fact that passengers had signed up for notifications;
- Inconsistencies between the boarding gates and/or times on boarding passes and those provided by representatives at the terminals and/or on information screens;
- Lack of information and/or inconsistencies on the Sunwing website regarding delayed flights;
- Erroneous operational information provided to passengers regarding the postponement of flights and/or changes in boarding gates;
- Inconsistencies, erroneous factual information and/or inability by some vacation destination representatives (NexusTours) to provide passengers with minimal information regarding delayed flights as well as the resulting transportation, meals and accommodations;
- Unreachable telephone customer support at some vacation destinations (NexusTours);
- Inconsistent and/or erroneous factual information provided to passengers to explain flight delays and/or wait times;
- Refusal by some representatives at the terminal and/or on the customer support line to answer questions;
- Inconsistencies, erroneous factual and/or operational information and/or inability by some representatives at the terminal and/or on the customer support line to provide passengers with minimum information regarding lost, delayed or misdirected baggage;
- Erroneous factual and/or operational information provided to passengers regarding the conditions of carriage set out in Sunwing’s tariff concerning meals, transportation and accommodations in the event of delays, as well as the cancellation policy offered to passengers;
- Erroneous factual information provided to passengers regarding the provision of drinks and snacks in the event of tarmac delays.
In vacation destinations, the employees of sister company NexusTours are the ones who act as official Sunwing representatives and deal with the public at various resorts. The testimonies provided by the passengers reveal that these representatives may be called upon to make decisions regarding the direct or indirect application of certain aspects of the tariff, including accommodations and/or meals in the event of delays, or management of delayed baggage. The inquiry established that these representatives receive training on the application of Sunwing’s Passenger Care Commitment program, but receive no specific training on the tariffs and/or the provisions applicable in the event of delays.
Sunwing’s business model
Sunwing (Airlines) operates mainly quasi-charter scheduled flights on behalf of tour operator Sunwing Vacations, an integrated sister company. The vast majority of its passengers are resort customers with all-inclusive vacation packages. However, this is not limiting because a significant number of flights are accessible to traditional travellers looking for air travel, though the latter make up a small fraction of its market. Sunwing operates the vast majority of its flights under the authority of its scheduled international air service licences.
Sunwing’s air routes are mainly operated on the north-south axis to serve resorts located between the 5th and 30th parallels north. Since these operations consist nearly exclusively in transporting Canadian passengers south for their vacations, the aircraft then bring previously transported vacationers back to Canada. These are basically subsidiary air shuttles supplemental to the operation of resorts by one or more of Sunwing’s sister companies.
When they leave a vacation destination with passengers, the air carrier’s aircraft do not necessarily make return flights to the same Canadian airport from which they originated. For example, an aircraft carrying passengers from Toronto Pearson Airport to the airport in Montego Bay, Jamaica, would likely be used the same day to bring vacationers from Montego Bay to Montréal-Trudeau.
This apparently happens frequently; the Toronto Pearson and Montréal-Trudeau airports are operation centres that enable Sunwing to strategically alternate its aircraft. In this respect, the inquiry revealed no causes or factors other than a domino effect stemming from systemic issues at Toronto Pearson Airport to explain the many delays experienced by passengers flying to or from Montréal-Trudeau Airport.
By operating flights greatly similar to charters, Sunwing creates conditions conducive to seat optimization and therefore frequently operates full or nearly full flights, at least in April. However, by operating them under the authority of scheduled international licences, it has little or no capacity to absorb impacts arising from irregular operations (delays, cancellations, etc.) like regular airline operators such as Air Canada, WestJet or Porter, to name a few, are typically able to do. These regular airline operators can have the flexibility to cancel a flight, to put their customers on the next flight or a flight operated by another air carrier, or to combine flights using larger aircraft, for example.
When the GTAA applies its contingency plan and calls for a 60% reduction in aircraft movements, the main air carriers stop their cargo operations (if they have any) and cancel and/or combine flights.
For Sunwing, which only operates Boeing 737s, there is just one scenario when there is a problem with an aircraft on the ground: another aircraft has to be put in service. Since April is a peak period for travel to vacation destinations, the air carrier did not have this leeway when these event occurs.
This means that a flight cancellation is hardly feasible for this air carrier, as it would prevent customers from reaching their resorts, or would leave them stranded there. Both scenarios are counterproductive when it comes to the turnover of these resorts. Consequently, a flight cancellation is not the preferred option in Sunwing’s business model. It appears that despite the incidents and its service provider’s lack of resources, the air carrier saw little choice but to try to operate its flights as planned.The inquiry established that no flights to or from the Toronto Pearson or Montréal-Trudeau airports scheduled between April 14 and 18, 2018, were cancelled. As detailed below, all flights were operated earlier, on time or with a delay. The longest delay was 40 hours and 47 minutes (Flight No. SWG407).
Conditions Of Carriage – Flights And Flight Groups Affected
The events in question did not affect all flights the same way, as some were more impacted than others. The ninety-six (96) flights affected are grouped below by the conditions of carriage set out in Sunwing’s tariff (timeframes, delays, baggage, etc.) for easier review. A summary table of all the incidents affecting each flight is nonetheless available in Appendix 10.
Unexpected delays—all categories combined—are fairly common in the airline industry. According to Sunwing’s tariff, when passengers experience such events, the following specific provisions apply, subject to certain terms and conditions.
More than four (4) hours
When there is a delay of more than four (4) hours, Sunwing’s tariff provides that the passenger will receive a meal voucher. The Sunwing OCC, located at its headquarters in Etobicoke, has decision-making authority.
According to the information provided by Sunwing representatives, when the decision to issue, or not issue, meal vouchers is made, it is typically recorded in the flight delay notification sent by the Sunwing OCC to the stations/counters concerned. It may also be transmitted by phone when the head of a station/counter deems it appropriate to contact the OCC directly. Sunwing OCC employees have access to a reference document for such cases, which specifies the amount ($10.00, $15.00, $20.00 or $30.00) allocated for each event.
As part of the inquiry, the air carrier was asked to provide the number of meal vouchers distributed to each passenger for this type of event. However, although Sunwing issues meal vouchers, the air carrier does not have a mechanism for monitoring the number of meal vouchers distributed; only the number of meal vouchers made available to passengers constitutes accessible and verifiable data.
Sunwing relies on its station/counter agents, who are typically employees of subcontractors, to distribute them. No standardized distribution procedure could be identified through passenger testimonies; some passengers stated that the meal vouchers were distributed to all passengers in the waiting area, while others alleged that they were handed out only on request, sometimes surreptitiously, whereas others still said that they finally received them after causing a scene.
For delays of more than four (4) hours, Sunwing’s tariff specifies—obviously—that “if a flight is delayed…, the Carrier will provide the Passenger with a meal voucher.” Many passengers testified that they received more than one (1) during their wait, while others received just one (1) during long delays. No standardized procedure regarding the number of meal vouchers could be identified through passenger testimonies.
Of course, it is possible for Sunwing to reconcile the meal vouchers used and/or the amounts claimed by some food suppliers in certain airports. However, this perspective was not retained by the Inquiry Officer given the lack of consistency in available data and their volatility; these data in no way make it possible to ultimately determine the number of meal vouchers distributed to each passenger.
Therefore, for each flight presented in Appendix 11, the reference data submitted to Members for review are, for each affected flight, (i) the summary of information extracted from passenger statements and (ii) confirmation and/or the number of meal vouchers made available to passengers by Sunwing.
The exact number of meal vouchers distributed to each passenger and of meal vouchers used will remain undetermined.
Notwithstanding the foregoing, some passengers stated that sandwiches or lunches were distributed during the wait in the terminal at some vacation destinations. Gord Kenny, Director, Airport Services, at Sunwing confirmed this practice in some Cuban markets and specified that the air carrier deems it preferable to provide sandwiches or lunches instead of meal vouchers. Consequently, in these few cases, the only reference data available are the amounts claimed (in Cuban convertible pesos, or CUCs) by the food suppliers of these air terminals.
As for delays affecting the flights from one of the Sunwing group’s vacation destinations, the air carrier believes that when passengers remain at and/or are returned to a resort, they are deemed to have access to meals (buffet or restaurant), making meal vouchers unnecessary. Yet, the testimonies of some passengers contradict this suggestion, stating that these buffets were closed or that the passengers were turned away under the pretext that they were not (or no longer) resort customers.
The seventy-seven (77) flights that were delayed for more than four (4) hours are presented in Appendix 11.
More than eight (8) hours
When the delay (i) exceeds eight (8) hours, (ii) requires an overnight stay and (iii) involves a flight for which the passenger did not begin his or her trip at that airport, Sunwing’s tariff provides that in addition to the meal voucher, the air carrier will pay for the passenger’s overnight hotel stay and airport transfers. Again, the Sunwing OCC has decision-making authority in this case.
For flights originating from the Toronto Pearson and Montréal-Trudeau airports, Sunwing is—obviously—not expected to provide accommodations to passengers affected by this type of incident, except those who are in transit.
However, the document entitled “Passenger Care Commitment” published on the air carrier’s website goes further as far as accommodations are concerned by specifying that:
If your flight is delayed more than eight hours and the delay involves an overnight stay, Sunwing Airlines will provide overnight hotel accommodations (subject to availability) with a meal and round-trip airport transfers.Instead of an overnight hotel stay, you may choose taxi vouchers to travel home if more convenient.
Some passengers testified that the air carrier provided them with accommodations both in Toronto and Montréal. However, some said that they were denied this. Based on these testimonies, there appears to be some confusion as to which document should apply, Sunwing’s tariff or the Passenger Care Commitment. Again, no standardized procedure could be identified.
As for flights to the Toronto Pearson and Montréal-Trudeau airports, Sunwing must—obviously—provide accommodations to affected passengers in accordance with its tariff. Passenger testimonies vary in this respect and include getting an extended stay in the original room, being transferred to other resorts, being transferred to a presumably unsanitary hotel (Flight No. SWG471), spending the night in a resort lobby, being pointlessly moved in the middle of the night between the hotel and airport, and spending the entire night waiting at the airport.
The notion of “taxi vouchers to travel home” as set forth in the Passenger Care Commitment is not explicitly stated in the tariff. As for ground transportation, the tariff mention only—obviously—airport transfers. In any event, some passengers testified that taxi vouchers for travel to and from home were given to some passengers but not to others. Again, no standardized procedure could be identified through the passenger testimonies.
What is more, according to the information provided by Sunwing representatives, the air carrier avoids issuing taxi vouchers at Montréal-Trudeau Airport and give preferentiality to passengers submitting claims for reimbursement of the costs incurred. The information collected from Gord Kenny, Director, Airport Services, at Sunwing shows that the air carrier took this position in response to cases of alleged frauds at this air terminal. This approach does not appear to be mentioned in any customer documents.
The forty-three (43) flights that were delayed for more than eight (8) hours and required an overnight stay and/or a taxi are presented in Appendix 12.
According to the information provided, Sunwing calculates tarmac delays from the time the aircraft leaves the boarding gate, typically by being pushed back by a tug. Many of the testimonies received stated that there were significant wait times aboard the aircraft after boarding was complete, without the aircraft pushing back from the gate or bridge, particularly to allow baggage to be loaded. For the purposes of this inquiry, the delays reported in Appendix 13 are as close as possible to the passive wait times experienced by passengers aboard aircraft, including, where applicable, periods where the aircraft did not move from the gate or bridge.
Ninety (90) minute threshold
Between zero (0) and ninety (90) minutes of delay on the tarmac, Sunwing’s tariff provides—obviously—that drinks and snacks will be served provided that it is safe, practical and timely to do so. This commitment is also contained in the Sunwing Airlines Passenger Care Commitment.
Beverages and snacks
The information collected from Marcella Howley, Vice-President, Inflight Operations, at Sunwing shows that the notion of “safe, practical and timely to do so” consists in flight attendants obtaining approval from the aircraft captain. She outlines that flight attendants must have a window of at least thirty (30) minutes in which to fully distribute water and/or juice on trays; for safety reasons, service trolleys cannot be used when the aircraft is stopped on the tarmac.
As for snacks, Ms. Howley stated that on October 19, 2016, Sunwing introduced a new for-purchase menu with light meals and snacks, doing away with free individual packets of snacks such as “SunMix.” Since then, aircraft are no longer systematically stocked, and inventories are established based on advance menu purchases and probable order estimates. Sunwing aircraft are therefore not sufficiently stocked with snacks for all passengers and would likely not be able to anyway due to a lack of space. In addition, the aircraft are only supplied on Canadian soil for return flights. In short, only snacks brought in from the outside could ensure even distribution to everyone during tarmac delays.
The Sunwing representatives stated that from Monday, April 16, to Thursday, April 19, 2018, flight attendants were instructed to distribute meals free of charge aboard flights as a courtesy and on request. The normal service with purchase procedure was reinstated on Friday, April 20, 2018. Although some passenger testimonies stated that a ham and cheese sandwich was offered during the flight, others seem to refute this, stating that either no food was distributed or all other food had to be purchased. No standardized meal management procedure could be identified.
Option to disembark
When there is a tarmac delay of more than ninety (90) minutes, Sunwing’s tariff states—obviously—that the air carrier will offer passengers the option to disembark the aircraft until departure, provided that circumstances permit and it is safe and practical to do so. The Passenger Care Commitment species that “passengers will be allowed to disembark to a departure lounge until departure.”
At Sunwing, it is the aircraft captain who is responsible for considering the ninety (90) minute threshold and who has the authority to make the decision to allow passengers to disembark. If that happens, the aircraft captain must coordinate the operation with the Sunwing OCC, which then tasks Swissport with asking the GTAA to assign a disembarkation gate at the terminal building.
Notwithstanding the foregoing, Toronto Pearson Airport was the final destination for eight (8) of the affected flights and for three (3) potentially affected flights, and all passengers had to disembark. This was also the final destination for the crew of all these flights. In short, none of the people aboard these aircraft were interested in remaining on board or being affected by such incidents. Properly consider the events, it did come to light during the inquiry that having passengers disembark was the only option pondered by the aircraft captains of these flights at the time, thus the inquiry did not verify whether passengers were indeed offered the option to disembark the aircraft.
During the period covered by the inquiry, sixteen (16) flights were grounded before takeoff or after landing, without the possibility to disembark for more than ninety (90) minutes. Four additional flights (Flight Nos. SWG746, SWG411, SWG603 and SWG731) were the subject of conflicting data and/or testimonies, preventing their inclusion in the preceding group to this day. All of these tarmac delays took place at Toronto Pearson Airport; no events of this type occurred at Montréal-Trudeau Airport.
Flight No. SWG783 was grounded overnight for approximately 5 hours during a transit at Cancun Airport (CUN) without the passengers being able to disembark, contrary to Sunwing’s commitment to that effect. This stopover was supposed to allow crew to rest and passengers to get food at a nearby hotel; however, Mexican authorities refused to allow the crew and passengers to disembark.
The flights involved in this type of incident are presented in Appendix 13.
Generally speaking, tarmac delays are incidents with causes that are as diverse as they are unexpected. In the case at hand, sixteen (16) affected flights and four (4) potentially affected flights all have similar causes or reasons. Therefore, only departing Flight No. SWG302 and arriving Flight No. SWG715, which experienced tarmac delays of 7 hours and 3 minutes and 6 hours and 14 minutes, respectively, were examined further. The information collected on these flights provides a general overview of all the flights affected by this type of incident. The facts relating to these two flights are detailed below.
Flight No. SWG302
Scheduled to depart Toronto Pearson Airport bound for the Abel Santamaria International Airport in Santa Clara, Cuba, on April 14, 2018, this flight—as well as its passengers and crew—was grounded for 7 hours and 3 minutes before being finally postponed until the following day.
The crew aboard Flight No. SWG302 was just beginning service and had a maximum of seventeen (17) hours in which to complete a return flight to Santa Clara and then back to Montréal-Trudeau, which is usually more than enough time. The service crew on board consisted of one (1) Cabin Safety Manager and three (3) flight attendants.
When he took over at around 3:45 p.m., Captain Julien Cayot proceeded to refuel the aircraft with an additional eleven thousand four hundred and thirty-two (11,432) litres of fuel. This includes a reserve to offset the amount of fuel used during taxiing, the estimated wait and the deicing operation. It should be noted that the Santa Clara airport imposes a weight limit on aircraft. Therefore, a Boeing 737-800 such as the one used for this flight cannot fill up fully before departure because it would arrive at the destination too heavy for landing in a manner that would respect the weight limits for surfaces at this airport.
Boarding was between 4:25 p.m. and 5:05 p.m. at gate B17 in Terminal 3, with a delay of about one (1) hour from the initial schedule. One hundred and eighty-seven (187) passengers boarded. At around 5:27 p.m., once boarding was complete and the bridge was retracted, the aircraft remained unusually stationary for approximately thirty (30) minutes for the baggage to finish being loaded.
At around 5:55 p.m., the aircraft was ready to be pulled back by the ground crew. However, an Air Transat aircraft was stopped waiting for a disembarkation gate behind the Sunwing aircraft, preventing the latter from pulling back. Under the circumstances, Captain Cayot made the unusual decision to contact the ground crew of the Air Transat aircraft to ask them to move it. Seeing that they were also Swissport employees, he suggested to the team assigned to his aircraft to disconnect their tug and to go move the Air Transat aircraft, and to then come back and reconnect to his aircraft. Once this manoeuvring was complete, Captain Cayot’s aircraft was finally pushed back into taxiing position.
Additional time was then required to allow the GTAA runway sweeping teams to remove a snow bank that had formed after the snow plough had come through. At around 6:10 p.m., the aircraft was finally taxiing towards the deicing area, which it reached at 6:17 p.m.
At around 6:47 p.m., the aircraft left the deicing area and lined up with other aircraft on taxiway Delta in preparation for takeoff from runway 06L. Progress was slow; the weather conditions were deteriorating and the runway condition was critical. Some pilots were requesting clarifications about the runway condition before going onto it. Since these clarifications were disseminated approximately every four (4) minutes, an impromptu delay resulted.
At around 7:03 p.m., the control tower asked Captain Cayot whether he was staying in the takeoff line or whether he had to return for deicing. Captain Cayot calculated that the deicing procedure would be expiring in approximately two (2) minutes and felt that it would be unlikely for him to be able to take off safely given that two (2) aircraft were still in front of him. He made the decision to leave the line and return to the deicing area to have the procedure repeated, and to begin the takeoff sequence all over again. Other aircraft were also forced to turn back.
The passengers were then informed of the situation. Captain Cayot was aware that ninety (90) minutes had passed since boarding and considered the option of returning to the terminal and having the passengers disembark. As he was informed that it would take approximately two (2) to three (3) hours before a gate at the terminal could be assigned to him, he maintained his decision to restart the deicing procedure and the takeoff sequence. At that point, he opted not to offer passengers this option because the aircraft was moving and it would be unreasonable for the Cabin Manager and the flight attendants to go into the cabin and ask the passengers.
The line for deicing, and the resulting delay, were now longer. Captain Cayot began to have concerns about managing his fuel reserves. He considered three (3) possible options:
- Line up, proceed with the deicing, resume the takeoff sequence—hoping that this would not use up too much fuel—and maintain the flight plan to Santa Clara. However, he doubted that this option would be viable.
- Line up, proceed with the deicing, resume the takeoff sequence and amend the flight plan to refuel in Orlando. This was his preferred option.
- Refuel the aircraft at Toronto Pearson Airport before going ahead with the deicing and resuming the takeoff sequence.
Captain Cayot contacted the Sunwing OCC and offered the above three options. He was instructed to proceed with the third option, which he conveyed to the control tower and the deicing facility. At this point, flight SWG302 could not leave the deicing queue. At around 7:15 p.m., he was instructed to move, after line-up was finished, to gate 501 located in the airport’s cargo operation zone.
It was at this time that passengers asked for food. Since the aircraft was transiting the taxiway, food was not provided. Passengers were told that food was only available for purchase while in flight.
Shortly afterwards, the Captain was informed that an aircraft was already in gate 501 and that Flight No. SWG302 had to wait on taxiway Foxtrot 2 for new instructions. Once stopped, at around 7:39 p.m., the Captain explained the situation to the passengers, turned off the engines and walked through the first few rows of the cabin. Water service was then provided. According to the testimonies received, some passengers were not served. The service team then revised its initial position and offered food and non-alcoholic beverages to passengers who asked for them. There was insufficient food on board to offer all passengers a snack. The flight attendants distributed the available snacks, including those included in the seventy (70) meal trays, to passengers who asked for them. It was not determined whether this food was distributed until it ran out. Some passengers received nothing despite asking. In an unusual move, one female passenger was charged for an item and then requested a reimbursement, which she did not manage to receive.
Flight No. SWG302 was then instructed to move to gate 523 of the Infield Terminal, a non-operational building that was being renovated at the time. Despite this, the facility provided access to an underground network of fuel lines. The Captain moved the aircraft there at around 8:05 p.m. and noticed that the area was deserted and that the tarmac was barely or not at all cleared. He estimated that there were two (2) feet of snow on the ground. He contacted the GTAA for the snow to be swept and then Swissport to guide the aircraft to gate 523. The GTAA team cleaned the area within five (5) to ten (10) minutes of the request. The Swissport ground crew did not show up as expected.
At around 8:30 p.m., the Swissport crew arrived to guide the aircraft and noticed that the Infield Terminal bridge was not operational. Since mobile stairs were consequently required for refuelling, the Swissport employees tried to get the nearby stairs to work, but they were stuck in ice. They managed to get a set moving after a third attempt and with assistance from Captain Cayot.
During this time, Menzies Aviation employees arrived to refuel the aircraft. Although the area had been previously cleared, they could not find the location of the refuelling pits under the blanket of snow and ice that had formed since then. It was only with the use of a crowbar, by breaking the ice randomly, that the refuelling pits were finally located and cleared. Captain Cayot again explained the situation to the passengers and walked through the first ten (10) rows of the cabin to answer any questions.
At around 9:25 p.m., the aircraft was refuelled and ready to push back, but the Swissport ground crew was nowhere to be found; they left with the tug and left the mobile stairs in place. Captain Cayot contacted the Sunwing OCC and asked for a crew to push back the aircraft. He could not obtain any specific information as to the actual wait time. He continued to call the OCC for the next eighty-five (85) minutes, to no avail.
He then considered using the Infield Terminal to have the passengers disembark in case of a critical situation, but was informed by a GTAA security officer that this option was not viable given the building’s state. He contacted the Sunwing OCC again and asked for a plan to be developed to bus passengers to Terminal 1 or 3 for swift deployment if necessary. He received the green light for this plan from the Sunwing OCC as well as information that no bus would be available for at least fifty (50) minutes. Captain Cayot believed that a departure was still possible if a Swissport ground crew arrived soon, and decided to keep this option as a last resort.
Shortly afterwards, while still waiting, he was informed by Sophie Levasseur, the Cabin Safety Manager on Flight No. SWG302, that a passenger no longer wanted to depart and wanted to disembark. He considered the situation and determined that it was still possible to proceed as planned. He therefore kept to the initial plan.
At approximately 11:00 p.m., the Swissport ground crew arrived equipped with two (2) tugs. Connected to the aircraft, the first tug was unable to push it back; the weight of the aircraft and the heat from its tires melted the ice layer on the ground creating cavities in which the wheels became stuck. It took several attempts to finally free the aircraft and push it back using the second, more powerful tug from another ground service provider.
Before proceeding with the deicing and resuming the takeoff sequence, Captain Cayot asked the passengers via the intercom whether they wanted to leave for Cuba or return to the terminal. He also asked the Manager, Sophie Levasseur, to ask the passenger who had asked to disembark whether he truly and knowingly wanted to do so. Finally, he asked her to collect all of the passengers’ responses and convey them to him. By the end of this exercise, Ms. Levasseur informed Captain Cayot that all the passengers wanted to keep to the initial plan.
At approximately 11:21 p.m., Captain Cayot was informed by the Sunwing OCC that the Santa Clara airport had advised that any aircraft arriving after 2:00 a.m. would be refused, moving up its usual closing time of 3:00 a.m. by one (1) hour and thus dashing any hopes of Flight No. SWG302 making it there. This advisory was not explained and astonished Captain Cayot.
A gate was therefore requested for final disembarkation. Captain Cayot informed the passengers of the situation. The aircraft was quickly assigned gate B20 at Terminal 3 and arrived there at around 11:58 p.m. Once there, the Swissport ground crew that was supposed to guide the aircraft was not there.
The ground crew showed up some twenty (20) minutes later and began to guide the aircraft towards the bridge. The ground in this area was covered with snow and frost, and the positioning lines were not visible. The Captain again contacted the GTAA to have the area cleared, and informed the passengers of the situation. After this intervention, some lines were now visible and the ground crew guided the aircraft to its final position. The engines were shut down.
The ground crew then realized that the aircraft was not positioned on the correct line and that the bridge would not be able to connect securely as a result. The aircraft therefore had to be pushed back using a tug so that it could be positioned properly. Captain Cayot informed the passengers of the situation and proceeded with the repositioning.
There was a final delay in the timeline to deice the bridge and make it operational. The passengers disembarked and entered the terminal at around 12:30 a.m.
During this event, Captain Cayot estimated having made about twenty (20) passenger announcements. The Cabin Safety Manager estimated having kept the crew informed of the cabin status approximately every ten (10) minutes. The washrooms remained operational and accessible when authorized. It should be noted that the testimonies of some passengers disputed washroom access.
Inside the terminal, $30.00 meal vouchers were made available to passengers. The passengers had to collect their baggage in order to check-in and go through customs again the following morning, and were forced to spend the night in the terminal.
Flight No. SWG302 finally left Toronto Pearson Airport bound for Santa Clara, Cuba, on April 15, 2018, at 6:40 a.m. with one hundred and seventy-three (173) passengers on board. The aircraft used for this flight was not the same one.
Flight No. SWG715
The circumstances surrounding flight SWG715 were different. Having departed the Queen Beatrix International Airport from the Dutch island of Aruba at 5:27 p.m. on April 15, 2018, the aircraft piloted by Captain George Acs landed at Toronto Pearson Airport at 10:21 p.m. the same day. From that point, it took 6 hours and 14 minutes for the passengers to disembark.
Toronto Pearson Airport was the final destination for this flight, and all one hundred and seventy-seven (177) passengers were to disembark. This was also the final destination for the crew, whose workday finished there after approximately fifteen (15) hours of service.
The aircraft left Aruba with a delay of one (1) hour and fifty-two (52) minutes due to refuelling and baggage loading delays.
At around 10:00 p.m., on approach to Toronto Pearson Airport, Captain Acs was informed by the control tower of an expected delay of twenty (20) minutes before a disembarkation gate could be assigned.
At around 10:21 p.m., after landing on runway 05, he received a revised delay of up to one (1) hour. No explanation was provided. Flight No. SWG715 was directed to runway 15L—closed at the time—to wait, near the intersection of taxiway November 5. A second Sunwing aircraft parked there also shortly after. Captain Acs informed the passengers of the expected delay. The severe weather conditions outside the cabin were noticed by most passengers.
At around 11:24 p.m., Captain Acs contacted the Pilot Manager on duty at the Sunwing OCC and received information to the effect that Flight No. SWG715 was at the top of the priority list for a gate.
It was not until 1:39 a.m., approximately three (3) hours and nine (9) minutes after landing, that the crew was instructed to direct the aircraft towards area Hotel for its final stop. Captain Acs took the aircraft there and noticed that the Swissport crew that should normally guide the aircraft on the parking line and bring the mobile stairs was not there. It was dark and the lines on the ground were not visible. He temporarily stopped the aircraft at the entrance to this area to wait for assistance.
At around 2:20 a.m., the aircraft was guided to parking area Hotel 1 by an individual who arrived in a van belonging to the Sunwing maintenance crew. This responsibility normally falls to a Swissport ground employee. Captain Acs did not know why this employee took such an initiative, but stated that when he saw the guiding signs, he followed them.
Approximately four (4) hours after landing, Flight No. SWG715 was stopped at Hotel 1 without stairs or any way to let passengers out. Tensions began to rise in the cabin and passengers were demanding to be let out. Although they were told that there were no stairs outside, some passengers went as far as to doubt the truthfulness of the information. Captain Acs made a few announcements over the intercom, but did not leave the cockpit to speak to the passengers because the doors were still locked. During this period, two water services were offered. According to the testimonies received, some passengers were not served. A few bottles of water and some snacks were available upon request. Only one passenger asked for and received food for his diabetic wife. The remaining coffee and sandwiches were no longer acceptable to serve because they had been on board for more than twenty (20) hours. In the absence of stairs and under the circumstances, there was no plan to supply food from outside.
At around 3:45 a.m., approximately five (5) and a half (½) hours after landing, the Cabin Safety Manager, Jill Bukovac, informed Captain Acs that two passengers were showing signs of medical concern. In addition, passengers sitting at the back of the cabin had become agitated and were creating an anxiety-provoking atmosphere. Under the circumstances, and now convinced that the stairs he was waiting for were not on their way, Captain Acs declared a medical emergency and sought police assistance.
At approximately 4:00 a.m., an ambulance followed by mobile stairs reached the aircraft. The Swissport employee who had brought the stairs left immediately after securing it to the side of the aircraft. Paramedics entered the cabin and assessed the passengers concerned. During this period of about twenty-five (25) minutes, the ambulance positioned itself right at the bottom of the stairs, preventing any general disembarkation attempts. Moreover, no bus arrived to transport the passengers to the terminal. The afflicted passengers were eventually evacuated by ambulance.
Shortly after the ambulance left, two police officers entered the aircraft; two buses followed. Rain and freezing rain were falling as passengers began to disembark, with police officers urging some passengers to remain calm. The Swissport employees who were expected to provide passengers with assistance during this phase were nowhere to be seen. Under the circumstances, crew members provided limited assistance. The last passenger left the aircraft at 4:35 a.m. On the recommendation of the police officers, the crew members left in a separate bus from the one carrying the passengers. Only one passenger in a wheelchair who required assistance was with them. The baggage remained in the aircraft until the following morning.
According to the information provided by the Captain and the Cabin Safety Manager, passengers were allowed to move around the aircraft most of the time when the aircraft was stopped. The washrooms remained operational. However, some passenger testimonies indicate that the toilets were clogged and foul-smelling.
Lost, delayed or damaged baggage
The chronic baggage delays on some flights is a component of the factual sequence of events. This situation affected mainly flights to or from Toronto Pearson Airport for the reasons detailed above. Passenger testimonies vary depending on the flights and circumstances, ranging from a carousel delay of one (1) to two (2) hours, to home delivery delays of up to three (3) weeks. Some testimonies also report damaged and/or lost baggage.
Following the operational delays with the loading/unloading of baggage by Swissport, a few thousand suitcases were found piled up in the baggage areas of the terminal buildings during the weekend. At the request of the Canada Border Services Agency (CBSA), all unclaimed baggage was moved on Monday, April 16, to the Airfield Maintenance oversized equipment hangar by GTAA employees. This enabled sorting and customs clearance, and ultimately gave delivery companies hired by the affected air carriers access to the baggage.
Sunwing representatives stated that they did not intend to dispute claims of lost, damaged and/or delayed baggage. They indicated that the provision provided in Sunwing’s tariff would be applied to each case brought to their attention.
The thirty-six (36) flights involved in this type of incident are presented in Appendix 14.
Sunwing’s tariff stipulates that passengers are entitled to information on flight schedules and schedule changes, and that in the event of a delay, an early departure or a schedule change, the air carrier will make reasonable efforts to inform passengers and, to the extent possible, provide reasons.
As detailed above, numerous communication issues between Sunwing and its passengers were identified. Although this type of incident was mentioned by all passengers and for each of the ninety‑six (96) flights affected, a summary is nonetheless provided in Appendix 15.
Compliance Monitoring and Enforcement
List of appendices
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|Appendix 1: Sunwing interim statement|
|Appendix 2: Photographs (2) provided by Amandeep Chahal|
|Appendix 3: Letter from Joerg Sutter of Swissport|
|Appendix 4: Document entitled “WG302 / 14th April 2018 – WG715 / 15th April Incident Report Breakdown” provided by Swissport|
|Appendix 5: Copy of service contract between Swissport and Sunwing|
|Appendix 6: Toronto Pearson Airport map|
|Appendix 7: Copy of GTAA internal presentation entitled “Weather Event April 13 18 COSPA Summary”|
|Appendix 8: Document entitled “CTA Summary of Wx Event – April 2018 – FINAL Version” provided by the GTAA|
|Appendix 9: Archived weather data for Toronto Pearson Airport|
|Appendix 10: Summary table of all incidents affecting each flight||Data (HTML) | Notes (HTML) | PDF|
|Appendix 11: Summary table of flights delayed by more than four (4) hours||Data (HTML) | Notes (HTML) | PDF|
|Appendix 12: Summary table of flights delayed by more than eight (8) hours||Data (HTML) | Notes (HTML) | PDF|
|Appendix 13: Summary table of flights subject to tarmac delays||Data (HTML) | Notes (HTML) | PDF|
|Appendix 14: Summary table of flights subject to lost, delayed or damaged baggage||Data (HTML) | Notes (HTML) | PDF|
|Appendix 15: Summary table of flights subject to communication issues||Data (HTML) | Notes (HTML) | PDF|