REGINA — Some Sunwing travellers from Saskatchewan say the airline is leaving them at airports in other provinces, while another says her flight from Mexico that made it to Regina had dozens of empty seats.
"We piled 11 people into three cars with 11 pieces of luggage and travelled through the night and arrived home," said Patrick Gobeil, who said his group rented vehicles on New Year's Eve to get home to Prince Albert, Sask., after Sunwing left them in Calgary.
Sunwing has been scrambling to bring hundreds of passengers home from destinations such as Mexico after winter storms disrupted its operations over the holidays.
On Friday, Sunwing Vacations announced it was suspending its flights from the Saskatoon and Regina airports for a month due to extenuating circumstances.
Gobeil said his group of 11 people flew to Mazatlan, Mexico, on Dec. 9 and were supposed to fly back to Saskatoon on Dec. 23, but Sunwing kept delaying their return until Dec. 30, when they finally got a flight.
He said he didn't know he wouldn't be returning to Saskatoon until he noticed a Calgary tag had been attached to his luggage. He said Sunwing staff on the plane promised hotel and meal vouchers in the city and assured his party they would get transport to Saskatchewan.
Gobeil said they eventually had to book their own rooms after waiting in Calgary for hours. When they returned to the airport the next morning, Sunwing staff promised a manager was coming to help them.
"All of a sudden, they left out the back and we were left there by ourselves," Gobeil said.
Traci Goertzen of Griffin, Sask., said Sunwing flew her to Regina on New Year's Eve after her return from the Mexican city of Puerto Vallarta was delayed by nearly a week, but she estimated there were about 50 empty seats on the plane.
Goertzen said she had met another family in the terminal that was trying to get to Saskatoon. She said they would have flown to Regina, but were told they couldn't be on the flight.
"That family from Saskatoon, they were literally crying in the airport because they wanted to go home so bad," said Goertzen.
Other Saskatchewan residents in a Facebook group formed by Sunwing passengers who have been trying to get home said they were flown to Winnipeg.
Sunwing did not respond to questions from The Canadian Press on Monday about the vacant seats or what has been happening to Saskatchewan passengers.
It said last week that it had planned 43 recovery flights. The airline apologized, saying despite its best efforts, it has failed to deliver on its customers' expectations.
Gobeil said the Sunwing crew on his flight to Canada seemed to believe there were only 19 Saskatchewan passengers on the plane when, in fact, there were about 100.
He said despite daily, repeated attempts to contact the airline, he's not sure they knew that his group were still in Mexico.
"I completed a survey about my completed vacation with Sunwing and got a $50 voucher, eight days before I got home. And it wasn't the nicest review," said Gobeil.
Goertzen said she was supposed to have flown back on one of the rescue flights several days earlier, but they were told the plane had a broken antenna. Then they were told the wrong part was shipped and another would have to be ordered from China. Then they heard nothing.
"It was just mentally frustrating. I don't even know how to put it into words because it was that much of a fiasco," Goertzen said when summing up the ordeal.
Saskatchewan Premier Scott Moe said last week that while airlines and air travel are regulated by the federal government, his transportation minister has been in contact with Sunwing and with federal transport minister asking for a detailed plan of how and when passengers who travelled from Saskatchewan will get back.
"In the days ahead, we expect Sunwing to appropriately compensate everyone who did not receive the service they purchased," Moe said Friday.
Sunwing said in a statement Friday that it had planned to supplement seasonal demand for travel from Saskatoon and Regina with the assistance of temporary foreign pilots for the winter months.
It said it brought in sub-services to sustain its operations, buy After that plan failed to materialize, Sunwing eventually concluded "the conditions and schedule have proven too significant" to continue with regular operations.
The airline said last week that "most, if not all, delayed customers should return home by Jan. 2."
This report by The Canadian Press was first published Jan. 2, 2023.
—By Rob Drinkwater in Edmonton
The Canadian Press