Passengers complain of ‘hellish’ Air Transat flight from Dominican Republic
Ottawa passengers say their 21-hour trip home from Punta Cana on Sunday was awful in all sorts of ways, not least of which involved sitting for hours on the tarmac with almost no food or water, long delays, cramped seats, sick passengers, and an unexpected landing in Montreal.
Passengers on Air Transat flight 859 say they understand mechanical glitches but compounding the indignity of their ordeal was their inability to get clear information out of the crew.
When contacted by the Citizen Tuesday morning, the airline said it was investigating the complaints. Later in the day an airline spokeswoman, Debbie Cabana, apologized on behalf of the company.
“We are sorry for this delay related to bad weather and the inconvenience for our passengers,” she said in an email statement Tuesday evening.
Cabana added that Air Transat was sending a travel credit voucher worth $250 to all the passengers on the plane. She also noted that the airline’s “bistro” menu, which offers items such as pizza, sandwiches and other foods, was available to passengers during the flight between Punta Cana and Montreal.
It’s questionable whether the apology and the voucher will assuage disgruntled passengers, some of whom are more upset about the airline’s inadequate communications than about the long delay. “I don’t think we were treated with much respect,” says Roger Biddle, a passenger who became ill during the long journey and needed medical attention. “People expect transparency in this kind of situation; they weren’t transparent with us at any time.”
The result, Biddle says, is that passengers simply did not know what was going on or the reason for the delays. Airline officials, he says, could have handled the situation much better by keeping passengers informed.
Other passengers had similar complaints. Ottawa teacher Jayne Taylor and her husband were on the flight with their two sons, aged 17 and 20. So was Matthew Wood, who got married in Punta Cana; the whole wedding party of 16 was on the return flight.
Taylor says the diverted and delayed trip was even worse than a takeoff she experienced where the airplane lost power and had to abort.
“I was overcome with emotion at one point and couldn’t stop crying because I was so exhausted,” she said.
And Wood’s group had trouble too. His bride, Michelle, had her luggage rifled and old family jewelry worn at the wedding is gone. His 69-year-old diabetic father had a weak spell and dropped to his knees, scaring everyone. He recalls anger and frustration among passengers, and says they had trouble getting reliable information out of the crew.
The vacation, Taylor says, had been wonderful. She enjoyed the sun, the beaches, the hotel, the Dominican people.
For the trip home, about 150 passengers were due to leave Punta Cana at 11:15 p.m. Saturday, with check-in two hours earlier. When they arrived at the airport they were told a mechanical problem would delay their flight until after 2 a.m. Taylor says Air Transat offered $12 vouchers for a meal in the airport, but many passengers didn’t realize the two restaurants (a pizza place and a Wendy’s) closed at 11 p.m. There was no food after that.
“Most people didn’t get anything to eat.”
A shuttle bus took them out to the airplane at 2:20 a.m., but was delayed because the fire department arrived. Taylor and fellow passengers, some of them standing, had to stay on the bus for 55 minutes, stressed and blasted by a “high-pitched screeching noise” that wouldn’t stop.
“The reason they finally let us out was because people at the front of the bus started banging on the windows with water bottles and screaming ‘Let us out!’”
About 4:30 a.m. (3:30 a.m. Ottawa time) they were told to stand on the tarmac for a few minutes, and finally allowed on the plane.
Food for the flight: Cookies and one drink, plus water.
Destination: Ottawa. Except it wasn’t.
Taylor says flight attendants spent a lot of time dodging questions, but eventually the aircraft landed in Montreal.
The announcement on the airplane said it was because Ottawa had bad weather, but by this point the storm was just as bad in Montreal.
“We knew, because we all had cellphones, that all the Air Canada flights landed in Ottawa.”
Matthew Wood recalls the pilot announcing the switch to Montreal only nine minutes before landing, but he believes the crew knew where they were going all along.
In Montreal the passengers got off, cleared customs, waited for their baggage (a further delay) lined up for new tickets. More delays.
They got back on the same airplane. It was now mid-morning.
“They put us back on the plane at 10:40 (a.m.) and nobody had got anything to eat or drink,” Taylor said.
That’s when the crew announced a further two-hour delay. But it took much longer.
“We were on the plane in Montreal for four and a half hours, sitting on the tarmac.” Taylor says a crew member made the undiplomatic comment that this delay was hard on the crew, and people started shouting: “It’s been 18 hours! You haven’t given us anything to eat!”
During the long delay in Montreal, the cabin crew said they couldn’t get any food or even enough water. Flight attendants brought out what they could — cookies, candy, little rolls that normally go with a hot meal, even their own personal food. But it wasn’t enough to go around.
“There are about 30 children on the plane, there are diabetics, there are old people … People were passing out,” Taylor said.
Biddle and another passenger, a woman, started to show symptoms of medical trouble. Paramedics came and spent a long time working on Biddle, who was vomiting, and the woman, who appeared to have heart trouble.
“The bathrooms — we couldn’t access either one because there were paramedics at both ends of the plane,” Taylor said. “We asked them to put on some cartoons at one point for the children. They put on Modern Family.”
Ambulances took both patients away. Then came more delay, for deicing.
They left Montreal at 3:40 p.m. and soon reached Ottawa. Luggage appeared about 5 p.m. — soaked through from being left in the rain.
With the one-hour time change, it was some 21 hours since the passengers had left their Punta Cana hotels.
“I want to know what happened to the other (sick) passengers. I want to know why Air Transat treats us like this … I will never fly with them again,” Taylor said.
“We even said to them: We are your clients and you have people that are dehydrated here, and you’re mad at us because we’re upset?”
Taylor and Wood both said the charter company owes its passengers compensation for the hardship.
- With files from Robert Sibley
Category: DR News |