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'Almost stranded:' Sunwing delays dozens of flights, leaving passengers up in the air

MONTREAL — Several thousand Canadians are dealing with delayed flights due to a technical problem at Sunwing Airlines Inc.

MONTREAL — Several thousand Canadians are dealing with delayed flights due to a technical problem at Sunwing Airlines Inc., leaving some stranded and others out of pocket as they sought to return from trips abroad — with many citing a severe lack of communication from the carrier.

A network-wide "system issue" prompted delays for "a number" of Sunwing flights Sunday and Monday, hampering check-in and boarding processes as well, the company said.

The Toronto-based tour operator said the problem stems from its reservation systems provider, which also serves other airlines, snarling their traffic too.

Sunwing's website showed virtually all flights scheduled for Monday — more than 40 — had been delayed, some by more than 12 hours. Flight-tracking website FlightRadar24 showed no Sunwing planes in the air for hours-long stretches throughout the day.

Customers took to social media to register their frustration.

Patrick Levesque was slated to fly back early yesterday evening to Ottawa from Varadero, Cuba, where the Sunwing plane had landed on a stopover from Montego Bay, Jamaica.

"Now it's 24 hours later," the 58-year-old construction worker said in a video chat from the airport at 4 p.m.

"I don't get paid for days that I don't work. It is sad," he said, noting he missed his Monday shift.

Sunwing put passengers up in a hotel Sunday night and told them to gather in the hotel lobby for an 8 a.m. airport shuttle, he said.

"Not a single soul from Sunwing appeared at the hotel," Levesque said, noting a shuttle did arrive at 2 p.m.

"A lack of communication on Sunwing's part made a lot of people confused and made a lot of people scramble."

The company said it is trying to notify passengers "where possible," with arrangements for hotel accommodations and airport transfers underway in some cases.

"We sincerely regret the impact this is having on our customers’ travel plans and are working diligently with our technology provider to resolve the issue as soon as possible so that regular flight operations can resume," Sunwing said.

Passengers with trips scheduled over the next day should check their flight status, it added.

Customer Kung Chu said his flight from Aruba to Toronto, scheduled for 4:05 p.m. on Monday, was pushed back until 1:42 p.m. Tuesday.

"We didn't get any official email or notification that our flight was delayed," he said from a hotel.

Chu, a 35-year-old marketing professional who was returning from a destination wedding, said he and about 30 other guests had to discern what was happening from social media posts by disgruntled passengers.

"I personally think it's still up in the air until we're actually on there," he said of the next-day flight.

"Some people say they feel like they're almost stranded."

The software issue marks the second time in several months that Sunwing has found itself facing harsh criticism.

A charter voyage from Montreal to Cancun, Mexico that devolved into a raucous onboard party drew criticism for apparent violations of vaccination rules at the time.

Transport Canada has so far slapped a dozen passengers who were on that Dec. 30 flight with penalties of up to $5,000 after videos  went viral, showing unmasked passengers in close proximity singing and dancing in the aisle and on seats as some clutch bottles of liquor, snap selfies and vape.

On Monday, customer Shawna Iverson had no words of redemption for the carrier after she was "stuck in Cancun due to Sunwing with no updates."

Her flight from Mexico to Vancouver was scheduled for 6:40 p.m. on Sunday. After waiting hours in a check-in line, passengers were told at 8 p.m. that the flight was cancelled, she said.

"Then (they) gave us $15 food vouchers and were told to stay in the airport with no chairs or word when our flight was going to be," Iverson wrote in a message.

An eventual 1:30 p.m. departure time on Monday was later pushed back to 4:30 p.m., she said. 

"But who knows if that's true as we never got an email flight update?

"We are definitely going to file a complaint for compensation," she said.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published April 18, 2022.

Christopher Reynolds, The Canadian Press