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Sunwing travelers remain stuck on day 2 of system outage


David Dzernyk, 46, thought Tuesday morning he would have spent a full day on his vacation in Punta Cana and was already relaxing by the pool, mojito in hand as the bright yellow Caribbean sun scorched him back.

“But instead,” he said, putting a soft fry in his mouth, “I’m here at the airport with strangers.”

For at least the second day in a row, Dzernyk, his family, the strangers he mentioned and thousands of other potential Sunwing vacationers, both in Toronto and abroad, were stranded.

Since Sunday, when customers started complaining about flight delays on social media, passengers have been stuck waiting to leave for the sun or come back. Meanwhile, the company says a ‘system outage’ has affected flight operations which it is working to resolve.

“Our team has been working day and night to find alternative ways to get customers to their destination or on return flights,” Sunwing Media wrote to The Star in an email. “We sincerely apologize to all of our customers whose travel plans have been impacted.”

In an attempt to get customers out of airports and planes, the email said it would process their flights manually as another company tried to fix the systems problem.

“We have successfully processed over 15 flights manually since yesterday, with the aim of manually processing as many flights as possible today, subject to airport restrictions, curfews and any required crew reassignment,” said said Sunwing.

But, in the meantime, passengers should expect further delays, according to the email. Late Tuesday, Sunwing Twitter account said it was offering “affected customers the option to change their departure date once free of charge.”

In its email to the Star, the company urged customers to sign up for “flight alerts on Sunwing.ca” for additional information.

At Toronto’s Pearson Airport, Terminal 3 was inundated with travelers trying to find a place to rest, eat, entertain their restless children or restrain themselves from going crazy as they waited, some in the queues that hadn’t moved for hours. Others slept on unlit treadmills. Even more spread out in the corners, their heads resting on luggage or staring into the distance, stripped bare.

***

When Dzernyk and his family — two children, his wife and mother — arrived at Terminal 3 early Monday for their mid-morning flight to Punta Cana, he stopped and looked around.

“I knew straight away that something was up,” he said.

He swept away all reservations. Either way, he was tired after the trip to Toronto from his home in Estevan, Saskatchewan, a town two hours south of Regina. It was her family’s third vacation attempt since just before COVID hit, and they weren’t going to let anything steal their sunshine.

But the terminal was in chaos, Dzernyk said. People were everywhere. Luggage was piled up in the corners. The anger was palpable. There didn’t seem to be any organization for anything, he said.

Since he didn’t know what was going on, Dzernyk tried to log into his app. But that did not work. Neither do the computer terminals at the airport. And when he tried to ask a “human from Sunwing” what was going on, he said no one knew. They told him to wait. There was a delay.

And soon, he says, they told him there was another delay, and then another. And another. As night fell, he and his family decided to check into a nearby hotel and wait there. But he came back every hour or so to the terminal on his own to check the information. He said that even though the app was back online, it gave him different times for his flight to depart. And he didn’t know what to believe. He thought the most reliable information was on that big screen hanging from the terminal.

He stood just below early Tuesday, eating his cold fast food on a luggage cart as his family tried to sleep on their jackets in a corner of the terminal.

He said he was shocked the company was handling the situation so badly. As an entrepreneur himself, Dzernyk said, he always has backup plans.

“They really should have understood,” he said. “You would think they would have a plan B. But, it didn’t even look like they had a plan A.”

Sunwing travelers remain stuck on day 2 of system outage

Michelle Dolliver – stuck in Pearson Terminal 3, waiting to board a flight to Punta Cana

Like Dzernyk, Michelle Dolliver couldn’t understand why Sunwing was having such a hard time.

Nonetheless, she said she and her children hoped to see the inside of an airplane by the end of the night.

Dolliver, a single mother, and her three children left Orillia early Monday, heading to Pearson for their mid-morning flight to the Dominican Republic, only to encounter the chaos her fellow Sunwing customers described once they arrived at the terminal. .

On Monday night, she and her children had a bad feeling about their vacation and tried to get one of the vouchers Sunwing said it was handing out for a one-night stay at a nearby hotel.

But there were none left by the time she went to get one, Dolliver said. She had no choice but to check in and pay the $450 to stay the night. It was late and snowing, and she wasn’t going to return to Orillia to find she had to be back at Pearson early the next morning.

“They told me to take a picture of the bill,” she said, referring to airport staff. “They said I would probably be reimbursed. Most likely.”

Michelle Sadowski — currently in the Dominican Republic, stranded for 30 hours

Michelle Sadowski is in the opposite situation to that of Michelle Dolliver: she is already in the Dominican Republic and wants to leave.

Sadowski and her husband, along with their two-year-old child and her in-laws, had already been away for more than a week and it was time, she said, to get back to normal life. Everything is harder with a baby, she said, which is part of why they’re frustrated at not being able to get home – or get information about why they’re waiting to board on their flight for more than 30 hours. .

“If we didn’t have Twitter, we would have absolutely no idea what was going on,” Sadowski said. “We would just be standing here with our hands up.”

Along with countless others overseas, Sadowski resorted to crowdsourcing information about their flight delays. And, she said, everyone online was helping by sharing details about what to expect, when their flights could leave and when they could finally board their plane.

It wasn’t until they were preparing to go to the airport that her family found out about the delays, she said. They tried to find flights on other airlines but everything was expensive. “It was, like, $6,000,” she said, “if we wanted to catch a flight” earlier.

As a concession to this debacle, Sadowski said, Sunwing was offering a $500 voucher per person that they can each use for another Sunwing trip. But after that travel fiasco, Sadowski said she wasn’t jumping at the chance to use hers.

“There are a lot of things I would do again in my life before flying with Sunwing,” she said.

Hadi Mahjoub and Jessica Prosper — back in Toronto after a 27-hour delay in Mexico

Hadi Mahjoub was at home in Toronto late Tuesday wearing nothing but his underwear after making a deal with Sunwing leaving his luggage somewhere between Mexico and Toronto.

“I have nothing to wear,” he said. “Literally, I have no clothes right now.”

After arriving at the Mexico City airport and finding out about Sunwing’s delays, Mahjoub said airport staff gave him and his girlfriend, Jessica Prosper, a choice: they could either keep their baggage and overcome delays. Or, check their bags right away, hope they get home to Toronto when they do, and get on any flight as soon as possible.

The trap of extending their vacation with their bags in tow? They are paying for their accommodation themselves for the next few days in Mexico, Mahjoub told staff.

He and Prosper opted to ditch their luggage and spend a night at a highway-side hotel that gave them US$15 for food, he said.

But, Prosper said, in the end, they had a bad deal. They weren’t as lucky as other passengers on their return flight, who she said were able to spend the night in all-inclusive hotels.

“It wasn’t necessarily fair,” Prosper said. “There was no pool or anything like that.”

Tania Cameron — stuck in Cuba for an extra night

Tania Cameron checked in to the star from the lobby of the hotel where she is staying in Cuba, the only place where she can connect to Wi-Fi and check the status of her return flight.

“It’s weird,” she said, “to get my news from social media before I get news from the airlines.”

Cameron was scheduled to depart Cuba on Tuesday and land in Winnipeg that evening at 10:30 p.m. But their flight was delayed until 12:30 a.m. Wednesday and that meant they wouldn’t be home until four a.m., she said.

Cameron didn’t hold her breath, she said, especially when a Sunwing representative told her not to leave her room until more information became available.

What happened next ? Another delay.

“She said no,” Cameron said, of what the rep told her. “You stay another night.”

Cameron isn’t complaining, though. She is happy for an extra day in the sun. “It’s better than sitting in an airport wondering what time we’ll be leaving.”

Alessia Passafiume is a GTA-based staff reporter for the Star. Contact Alessia by email: apassafiume@torstar.ca
Michele Henry is a Toronto-based Star reporter who writes about health and education. Follow her on Twitter: @michelehenry

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