Abbotsford International AirportFile photo

Sunwing vacation passengers left at Abbotsford airport

YXX staffers receive praise for help to passengers; airline criticized

A plane-load of Victoria-bound passengers was left in Abbotsford late Saturday night and told to make their own way back to Vancouver Island after weather diverted their flight from Mexico.

And while the experience has left at least one passenger unhappy with the their airline’s performance, he and others have given glowing reviews to staff at Abbotsford International Airport for dealing with the incident.

Salter, his wife, daughter and 10-year-old granddaughter, were among more than 100 passengers scheduled to fly from Mexico to Victoria Saturday evening on a Viva Aerobus flight chartered by Sunwing Vacations. Instead, heavy fog diverted the passengers’ flight to Abbotsford, where the jet landed at 11:30 p.m. Forty-five minutes after that, the passengers were told to get off the plane and moved into a secure area. Several hours of uncertainty ensued, and Salter said it was past 4 a.m. by the time passengers were told they wouldn’t be flown to Abbotsford and would have to make their own way home.

While he said that was unpleasant, Salter said airport staff, and particularly operations technician Curtis Chaplin, for helping passengers. That included buying as much food as possible from a local Tim Hortons, getting quotes from a bus company, and arranging for taxis once it became clear that would be the best way for passengers to make it home.

“It was the airport that looked after us,” he said. “It wasn’t just good, it was outstanding.”

Several other YXX staffers also remained at the airport well past the end of their normal shifts to help the passengers. Airport officials say they have received several emails of thanks from passengers.

Salter said the taxis finally left Abbotsford around 6 a.m. After missing the 7 a.m. ferry, Salter and his family made it on the 9 a.m. sailing. It was 1:30 p.m. by the time the family finally made it home.

“We feel abandoned by Sunwing,” he said.

He said he has received an apology and a $150 voucher for a future Sunwing vacation, but has not been reimbursed for the cab fares or ferry expenses. And after the weekend’s experience, he’s not excited about the coupon.

In a statement to The News, Sunwing confirmed the delay and said it couldn’t comment on the diversion itself. But a spokesperson wrote:

“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. Our passenger care team then attempted to source hotel accommodation locally or secure onward ground transportation for our customers to reach Victoria. Unfortunately, given that the diversion occurred in the early hours of Sunday morning, they were unsuccessful in doing so. Customers were then advised to retain their taxi receipts for their onward travel back to Victoria and submit them for a refund. We sincerely regret 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.”

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