Elena Starostenko booked a vacation in Cancun with Sunwing as a retreat for her 80-year-old mother — who she helped flee Ukraine in April — but after being stranded for three days, the Saskatoon woman is now seeking justice.
"It was a nightmare. Sunwing made the trip exhausting. It was heartbreaking to see my mom not being even given a wheelchair at the airport as we waited. At one point even she almost passed out," she said.
"We were given no information even after tens of calls and just shuffled around hotel lobbies."
Hundreds of travellers who used Sunwing to reach warm destinations over the holiday season found themselves stranded due to flight delays and cancellations. Last week, Sunwing announced it was cancelling all its flights out of Saskatoon and Regina until Feb. 3.
Starostenko is now a member of a group on social media service WhatsApp called "Sunwing Class Action." The group has more than 750 members and centres on discussion of a possible class-action lawsuit against the airline.
CBC spoke with people from that group and other similar groups popping up on social media. Many say they have had trouble receiving the $500 compensation required by Canadian law, and that even that sum would not be enough to cover what they went through.
Starostenko's plans of returning home on Christmas Eve were significantly delayed. Like many others CBC spoke with, she has not received any compensation.
"I seek a class action not for money, but justice for the stress my mom and I got. It was very disrespectful and insulting of Sunwing to absolutely ignore its customers," she said.
Mitchell Woloshyn, a salesman in Saskatoon, said he went through a similar stressful ordeal.
"I want to pursue a class action, as it was specifically bad for my girlfriend. Her mental health was severely impacted," he said.
"We missed out on Christmas and lost work too. Sunwing should compensate us for all that."
He said that on Dec. 26, they were seated on a plane only to be deboarded after one person was not on board. A Lithuanian airline rescued them the next day.
Woloshyn said momentum toward a class action is building and group members are gathering evidence to present to law firms.
He said many in the group find the standard $500 compensation not enough to cover the emotional and mental distress people went through.
"A class action will seek justice and hold Sunwing accountable. Most people never want to fly with Sunwing again as they failed us in every single way," he said.
"This was not weather-related, but Sunwing keeps using that as an excuse. It was utter mismanagement."
The 32-year-old said he has tried twice to submit a claim, but that the Sunwing website would not let him.
Medicine Hat resident Martin Cole also faced significant delays and expenses.
"We spent $1,600 on a different airline and car ride home and were delayed 52 hours by Sunwing, but still no compensation or communication," he said.
CBC has reached out to Sunwing about the alleged lack of compensation, but the airline did not respond by publication time.
'A class action is the right thing': passenger
Melissa Robertson, who was supposed to be back to Edmonton from Mexico on Dec. 22, vehemently agreed that Sunwing should be held accountable.
"We were awake for 40 hours calling, emailing and looking for information, but our flight even on Dec. 24 was cancelled. It was an awful day to tell my three kids we won't be home for Christmas," she said.
"We were lied to and left in a silent limbo. No correspondence, just a long wait. The airport looked like a scene from movies."
Robertson said that even after 108 hours of delays, her flight is "ineligible for compensation or refund." She said she is afraid to fly again and is postponing a spring vacation.
"It was a disgusting scenario for Sunwing to treat us this way. People were struggling with medications, baby formula and diapers," she said.
"A class action is the right thing. We are everyday people. Some people had emergencies and had to book out of their pockets for alternate flights."
Crystal Cassidy, who was stuck for two days in Punta Cana, Dominican Republic, said the reasons they were given for the delays kept changing from bad weather to staff shortages.
The Ajax, Ont., resident spent $4,000 on Air Canada tickets for herself, her boyfriend and her 14-year-old daughter to get back home on Christmas night so she could be reunited with her four-year-old son and attend to an emergency at the business she runs.
"Sunwing says we won't be given any refund. They are using the weather as a scapegoat. We even asked for a refund for an upcoming April vacation with them, but they will just give vouchers," she said.
"I used to be their regular customer, but now I want to partake in a class action as I want my compensation and seek justice for all, especially children sleeping on floors outside the airport."
'A viable class action against Sunwing': lawyer
Regina lawyer Tony Merchant told CBC News Monday that these passengers have a "viable class action against Sunwing."
"[Sunwing's] systems got behind and they can justify problems with bad weather on that day or next day, but they can't justify that for six days later," he said.
"They stretched themselves too far in the first place and then tried to justify that and blame it on weather issues."
Merchant said it is "misrepresentation" to tell passengers — day after day — that they will get a flight home, only for them to wait almost a week.
Merchant said it would also be worthwhile to learn from Sunwing why the airline is cancelling all of its flights from Saskatchewan until Feb. 3, further hampering plans for many.
"My expectation is that they are putting their limited airplane capacity in more lucrative markets, and that won't be a justification for saying we are under-providing to Regina and Saskatoon," he said.