Air Transat passengers said they endured a painful six hours with little or no food, scant information and often no air conditioning while their plane sat on a hot tarmac at an airport in Rome earlier this week.
“It was really, really bad. I never believed that an airplane on the inside could be that hot,” said passenger Stephen Faria-Wong. “It’s not fair to somebody who has paid for a service, you know, and have to be tortured in this way.”
The Monday flight — destined for Toronto — had 336 travellers onboard. Outside, the temperature hovered around 30 C.
Air Transat said it grounded the plane at Leonardo da Vinci International Airport due to a mechanical problem and, after six hours, had to cancel the flight altogether because the crew had hit their limit on working hours.
Passengers were then herded back to the airport and eventually bused to a hotel for the night. The plane took off the following afternoon, close to 24 hours after it was originally scheduled to leave.
CBC News interviewed a half-dozen passengers who expressed anger and disappointment over the experience — and the tarmac delay in particular.
“It was absolutely sweltering,” said 17-year-old Madeline Massaro, who was travelling on a class trip with a group of about 40 Toronto high school students.
“There was no air, no nothing. We all had to fan ourselves. One of the girls in my group, she had to leave the plane because she was having really bad anxiety attacks.”
The mishap also follows a Canadian Transportation Agency (CTA) ruling that Air Transat violated its own rules in July 2017, when two of its planes were delayed on the tarmac for more than four hours at the Ottawa airport. One of those planes had no air conditioning or food and water for passengers.
Air Transat was fined $295,000 and the CTA ordered the airline to make changes to avoid similar incidents in the future.
Air Transat apologizes
In a statement Wednesday, Air Transat told CBC News it did everything it could to accommodate passengers who were stuck on the tarmac in Rome.
“We would like to reiterate to our passengers that we are sorry for any inconvenience this may have caused, but confirm that we have done our best to ensure their comfort by providing snacks and water, activating the air conditioning system as soon as possible and communicating regularly,” spokesperson Debbie Cabana said in an email.
But the passengers interviewed by CBC News told a somewhat different story. Each said the air conditioning wasn’t working for most of the six-hour delay and that they were only offered water — although a couple passengers said they managed to snag a small snack.
Serge Grubisa was sitting near the plane’s kitchen and scored a mini-can of Pringles, which he shared with his wife.
“I’m really, really surprised that nobody started throwing punches,” said Grubisa, who lives in Burlington, Ont. “There’s no air moving; it’s like sitting in the sun.”
About halfway into the delay, Air Transat opened the aircraft’s doors and allowed people to stand outside on stairs that had been attached to the plane, Grubisa said. But the respite was short-lived because security arrived and shooed them back in.
“We were out about 20 to 30 minutes, then the police came down from the airport and told us, ‘You know, you can’t be out of the plane,'” he said.
People permitted to leave
Air Transat said it allowed passengers to leave the plane and return to the airport about three hours in, which added to the tarmac delay due to logistical issues, such as arranging transport to the terminal.
According to the passengers, most people remained onboard, as they were under the impression that anyone who left would have to find their own way home.
“They did actually say it was on our own terms if we wanted to leave the plane,” said Franca Collia, a passenger who lives in Mississauga, Ont. “There was no compensation for that.”
Passengers also received little information from the airline about what was going on both during the tarmac delay and after everyone had to disembark, she said.
“They kept saying, ‘We’d love to tell you more, but we don’t know any more information,'” said Collia. “Exiting the plane, we had no idea what we were doing.”
Questions about compensation
Under the new Canadian regulations, passengers receive $1,000 each for delays longer than nine hours — but that rule doesn’t take effective until Dec. 15
And even then, it likely wouldn’t apply to a situation like this Air Transat incident, as compensation is designated for delays that are within an airline’s control and don’t relate to safety. An unplanned mechanical problem would typically be considered a safety issue.
Fortunately for these passengers, because the plane was departing Europe, European rules apply, which stipulate that airlines must dole out €600 ($877) for long-distance flight delays.
Air Transat confirmed that passengers will each receive that amount.
But some passengers feel that’s not enough; they also want the airline to be held accountable for its treatment of passengers during the ordeal.
“We were treated inhumanely,” said Faria-Wong. “The government should do something about this.”
The Canadian Transportation Agency said it’s looking into the situation.