Sunwing travellers consider class action
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A Manitoba woman, whose $30,000 dream wedding was ruined, is considering joining a potential class-action lawsuit against Sunwing after the airline cancelled flights, lost luggage and stranded travellers throughout the holidays.
“I want people to know that Sunwing is not reliable,” said Candyce Pollock, who was set to depart from Winnipeg early Christmas Day and get married in Puerta Vallarta, Mexico on Dec. 28.
She and more than 100 passengers arrived at the Winnipeg airport to find the Sunwing kiosk empty. After numerous unannounced delays, the airline cancelled the trip.
“We are profoundly upset. These things do happen, but… I think there’s a huge disparity in the company, and it is all about money for them,” she said. “We were on the edge of our seats just praying things would work out, but you couldn’t trust anything they said.”
Pollock, 61, may join more than 750 Sunwing travellers who are preparing to file a class-action lawsuit against the airline.
Sohail Shahidnia organized the group on WhatsApp, an online messaging platform. The true number of people seeking compensation may be closer to 2,000, he said.
Shahidnia was among a group stranded at the Cancun, Mexico airport whose return flights had been repeatedly cancelled over the Christmas break. Videos taken at the time show hundreds of passengers chanting in unison, calling for the airline to take them home.
After a 25-hour delay, Shahidnia arranged a flight with a different airline for him and his wife.
“The main goal of the lawsuit is to see that Sunwing stops doing what it is doing,” he said. “We do understand if the weather is bad and they need to cancel flights for safety… but this is repetitive behaviour.
“We want some clear answers about what happened.”
On Thursday, Sunwing Travel Group CEO Stephen Hunter and Sunwing Airlines president Len Corrado released a joint statement saying they are “incredibly sorry for letting our customers down.”
The statement attributed the disruptions to an array of causes, including winter storms that disrupted traffic across much of Canada.
The breakdown of the airline’s digital communication system exacerbated the problem. Some flights were cancelled or delayed without notice, while others departed with vacant seats.
According to Sunwing, most customers still “enjoyed their holidays with minimal disruption.”
“We regret that we did not meet the level of service our customers expect from Sunwing,” the executives said in the statement.
“We had clear failures in execution, particularly in responding to weather-related delays and the aftermath of severe weather disruptions, which limited our ability to reposition aircraft and crew to other airports to help alleviate the backlog in flights.”
The company said it completed all recovery flights related to holiday disruptions and plans to address technical issues related to its poor communication with customers who had been stranded.
The apology brought little comfort to Pollock, who is irritated by the financial loss and the emotional distress caused by the cancellation.
Pollock, who recently survived a battle with breast cancer that prompted her to retire early, said the trip was a “celebration of life” as well as an opportunity for her and her fiance’s families to get together.
“We are profoundly upset. These things do happen, but… I think there’s a huge disparity in the company, and it is all about money for them.”–Candyce Pollock
Despite repeated attempts to connect via email and phone, she has received no response from Sunwing representatives. She booked the trip through a travel agent in Selkirk who is trying to get a refund.
She also wants Sunwing to be accountable by providing a full explanation.
Sunwing is actively accepting eligible claims for compensation and will fully comply with Canada’s Air Passenger Protection Regulations, the airline said.
Shahidnia has spoken with multiple law firms that are assessing the feasibility of a class-action suit.
The airline’s compensation policy does not account for mental and emotional distress, and those who receive funds may be legally ineligible to participate in the suit, he said.
Class-action lawsuits are complex, expensive and challenging, often requiring the support of specialists and large law firms, said Harvey Pollock (no relation to Candyce Pollock), a senior lawyer at Pollock and Company in Winnipeg.Sunwing cancelled flights, lost luggage and stranded travellers throughout the holidays.
Class-action claims can involve thousands of people, hundreds of millions of dollars and take years before they are resolved.
“It’s complicated as all hell,” he said.
Class-action lawsuits are best suited for cases where a complaint is generic and easily applied to large groups of people, such as a case against a pharmaceutical company that produces medication with unintended side-effects, he said.
The case against Sunwing could present challenges because the variety of complainants and claims sought will likely be far-ranging.
“The idea of a class-action lawsuit is there is one person spearheading a legal complaint shared by many. You can’t just say, ‘I spent $5,000 so I am filing a claim for $5,000.’ You need to prove your claim.”
“We do understand if the weather is bad and they need to cancel flights for safety… but this is repetitive behaviour.”–Sohail Shahidnia
The airline announced on Dec. 29 that it was cancelling operations at Saskatoon and Regina until Feb. 3, saying it has “reduced some capacity during the month of January to ensure that we can execute to the highest standards with the least disruption to customers as we move through the winter season.”
After the airline issued its apology, Transport Minister Omar Alghabra tweeted that he had spoken with the company Thursday, calling the delays “completely unacceptable.”
“Canadians expect airlines to keep them informed and manage disruptions. I will continue to work with Sunwing to make sure this doesn’t happen again,” he said.