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'Predatory airline': Metro Vancouver couple stuck in plane on tarmac for 5 hours

They say the airline also cancelled a couple of their flights and can't book them on a flight home until Thursday.
The stormy Vancouver weather and a snowstorm in Toronto resulted in multiple cancelled Swoop flights for a couple that is now stranded.

A Metro Vancouver couple says their vacation has turned into a nightmare due to multiple flight cancellations and being held on the tarmac for several hours.

Ryen Lavoie, 22, and his partner, Terra Bushey, 24, were scheduled to depart on a flight from Abbotsford International Airport (YXX) to the John C. Munro Hamilton International Airport (YHM) in Ontario on Feb. 20 at around 5:20 p.m. Since they don't live near the airport, the couple used public transit and then took an Uber to get to the airport.

When their flight was cancelled due to wind and rescheduled for 8 a.m. the next morning, the couple didn't want to pay to go home and then back to the airport so they slept there overnight instead. Thankfully, the direct flight departed Abbotsford on Feb. 21 without issue, and they arrived in Hamilton on schedule. 

But the pair haven't been so lucky getting re-booked on a return flight home after their scheduled flight from Hamilton was cancelled due to a winter storm back east. 

"We got to the airport way ahead of time," Lavoie told V.I.A. in a phone interview, noting that the flight was delayed before they boarded their flight to come home. 

"I want to say around 3:30 p.m. is when they actually boarded us and we were walking through the snow and people were commenting, 'I think we're just going to get on the plane and then be told to get off.'" 

After boarding the plane and waiting for half an hour, the passengers were informed that they had to wait for the weather to clear up and the plane needed some de-icing fluid. 

"It's so bad at this point that you can't even see the planes on the you could just make out the plane next to us but anything beyond that had just disappeared."

The captain informed the passengers that they would be making updates every half an hour regarding the inclement weather. However, no one expected to wait a very long time. 

Inclement Metro Vancouver weather and storms across Canada disrupt flight schedules

Since the original flight was scheduled to arrive in Vancouver sometime around 6 p.m., many people didn't buy dinner to eat on the plane. Lavoie said they had planned to eat after they landed but they ended up waiting about five hours on the tarmac for the flight to take off.

"During this time we were only offered a standard glass of water and a small package of pretzels," he described, adding that the flight was officially cancelled at around 9 p.m. later that night; their flight had originally been scheduled to depart at 2:20 p.m.

The passengers were told to look out for a "cancellation notice" but weren't given any additional information. 

"When we tried to call Swoop, they don't actually have a phone number that actually goes to a person," Lavoie added, noting that the call directs customers to a website and then hangs up on them.

"We tried several different phone numbers that were all supposed to lead to customer care."

When they were eventually able to connect with a Swoop virtual assistant, the options they were given were either a flight departing Friday or Sunday, which would have left the couple out of work for several days and without someone to take care of their cats. Additionally, Bushey has medication that she needs to pick up this week and couldn't wait that long, Lavoie explained. 

While Swoop offered them a flight departing Thursday morning with WestJet, the couple opted to book an Air Canada option out of Toronto Lester B. Pearson Airport (YYZ) that flies directly to Vancouver International Airport (YVR) on Wednesday around 9 p.m. The cost of both flights with fees and baggage has cost them $1,600. 

"[Swoop] is a predatory airline that will abandon [its] customers, force them to pay for rebooked flights a week or more out, or to switch to their parent company, [WestJet]," the exasperated traveller said. 

"The main thing we want out of this is for [Swoop] to implement a better customer service system."

While the Air Passenger Protection Regulations only provide a right for passengers to disembark after roughly three hours (or just shy of four in some cases), they don't provide compensation to them, according to Dr. Gábor Lukács, the founder and president of Air Passenger Rights — a group that gives airline customers information about their rights so they are capable of enforcing them against airlines.

"I would suggest those passengers to sue," he told V.I.A. in a previous interview. 

"Forcible confinement is also a crime under s. 279(2) of the Criminal Code. That was held to include situations when someone is not allowed off a car even if the doors are not locked."

Swoop confirmed to V.I.A. in an emailed statement that the couple's flight on Feb. 20 was cancelled due to inclement weather and a recovery flight was booked the following day at no extra cost to the customers. 

"As the reason for the cancellation was uncontrollable and due to weather, no hotels or airport transfers were required to be provided," stated the airline. 

Swoop said the flight home on Feb. 27 was also cancelled but travellers were provided with the options on WestJet flights from Hamilton or Toronto to either Abbotsford or Vancouver at no additional cost. 

"Mr. Lavoie made contact with a Swoop agent via Live Chat and was provided instructions to rebook themselves on WestJet flights using the self-serve options provided in their cancellation email."

The airline did not comment on the experience the couple faced while waiting on the tarmac or if more dates for other flight options were available. 

Find out more about getting refunds for flight cancellations and delays with our comprehensive guide.