Island passengers say Sunwing left them stranded in Abbotsford

Company says late arrival led to difficulties securing accommodation, transportation

A Sunwing Vacations flight scheduled to land in Victoria last Saturday was rerouted to Abbotsford, leaving close to 200 passengers stranded in a city five hours from their scheduled destination.

Stuart Salter was travelling from Los Cabos, Mexico with his wife, daughter and 10-year-old granddaughter when approximately 20 minutes before landing, the pilot of their chartered Viva Aerobus flight announced they’d be going to Abbotsford instead because the airport in Victoria was closed.

When the flight landed at 10:45 p.m., Salter checked online and saw that at least three other planes had landed in Victoria during that time. He said passengers were held on the plane for an hour and then prohibited from leaving the airport. “We were in the airport until 4 a.m. when we were told the plane was not going on to Victoria.”

“Essentially we were abandoned in Abbotsford,” the Qualicum Beach resident said.

The Abbotsford airport manager, Curtis Chapman, was an hour from the end of his shift when the flight arrived. Salter called him “an absolute star” who not only stayed on shift to help, but arranged for food and coffee from Tim Horton’s at 2 a.m. and was about to charter a bus – on his own dime – to take people to Victoria, but couldn’t find a driver at 5 a.m.

A $175 cab ride later, Salter and his family made the 9 a.m. ferry from Tsawwassen to Swartz Bay where they paid another $25 for a second taxi to take them to the Victoria International Airport where they had parked their vehicle.

“What bothered me, to be honest, was not that we landed in Abbotsford. This is Canada and it’s winter – things happen,” Salter said. “The real issue is how they handled it. It was appalling.”

In a statement, a spokesperson for Sunwing said the company regrets that “extreme weather impacted our customers’ return home and have extended a future travel voucher to them to the value of $150 per person as gesture of goodwill.

“As we are not the airline, we cannot comment on any specific operational details relating to the diversion itself. However, we were informed by Viva Aerobus that our customers experienced a delay in disembarking, as Abbotsford Airport does not have a customs agent on duty 24 hours and so it was necessary to reopen customs to meet the flight.”

The spokesperson noted the company’s customer care team attempted to source hotel accommodations or secure onward ground transportation, but given that the diversion occurred in the early hours of Sunday morning, they were unsuccessful.

The statement said passengers were then advised to retain their taxi receipts for their onward travel back to Victoria and to submit them for a refund.

A second passenger who was travelling with her boyfriend voiced frustration that Viva airline staff told her they would be reimbursed for the additional travel costs to reach Victoria, but all they have been offered by Sunwing is the $150 voucher.

Both she and Salter said they don’t plan to travel with the company again.

kristyn.anthony@vicnews.com

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