All-inclusive trip departure delay leaves vacationers upset

Two Mount Uniacke couples say they will not fly Sunwing again after the departure of their seven-day, all-inclusive trip to Cuba was delayed for 11 hours without explanation, causing them to lose most of a day of their vacation.

What can you do when your vacation is cut short by the travel company?

Sunwing says they try to avoid schedule changes as much as possible but the airline's terms and conditions say 'on occasion it is necessary to make schedule changes for operational reasons.' (Eddie Maloney)

Two Nova Scotia couples say they will not fly Sunwing again after the departure of their seven-day, all-inclusive trip to Cuba was delayed without explanation, causing them to lose most of a day of their vacation.

"We would have had a full day on the beach and meals and what all is included," said Brian Stephen of Mount Uniacke, who planned a trip with his wife and a neighbouring couple to the southern destination.

The couples were notified two weeks before their scheduled departure that their flight would not leave at 6 a.m. as scheduled, but instead would depart almost 11 hours later at 4:55 p.m.

"We should have been there having lunch but now we're going to get to our room at midnight so we're losing an entire day," said Danielle Weickert, as she prepared to check in at Stanfield International Airport in Halifax.

She said not being given a reason for the departure change added to the disappointment.

Stephen said they "paid good money" for the trip, which cost them $1250 each.

Departure changes possible

CBC News contacted Sunwing about the flight delay. In an email, spokeswoman Rachel Goldrick said they try to avoid such schedule changes as much as possible.

She pointed out their terms and conditions state "on occasion it is necessary to make schedule changes for operational reasons."

Sunwing's terms and conditions, which are eight pages long, says "all flight times, airlines and type of aircraft, as well as itineraries are subject to change with or without prior notice."

The document goes on to say "operational changes can occur which may result in the need to reschedule or cancel flight" and notes Sunwing does not accept responsibility for missed holiday time or any other expenses.

Sunwing responded with 'blow-off letter'

Stephen emailed Sunwing saying this is the fourth time he has booked trips with them where there has been some type of delay. He was told by his travel agent that Sunwing offered a $50 voucher for future travel but Stephen told Sunwing that was an insult.

"Contact Us Sunwing" emailed Stephen saying they understand his frustration but flight changes are "periodically a necessary reality" in their industry.

The email went on to say that while flight schedules are arranged many months in advance of departure dates, "due to various operational factors, it may become necessary to make amendments to the schedules."

Stephen calls that a terrible way to reply to his concerns.

"Their response is basically a blow off letter," he said. "They're not saying any reason why the delay. You don't get a delay two weeks in advance."

Advocate urges legal action

Air passenger rights advocate Gabor Lukacs told CBC News in his opinion the airline's terms and conditions don't apply because of the Montreal Convention, an international treaty signed by Canada that governs international air travel.

Passenger advocate Gabor Lukcas of Halifax wants people whose international flights are delayed to take the airlines to small claims court. (CBC)

"They can put whatever conditions they want but they have no legal effect under Article 26 of the Montreal Convention," he said.

"The Montreal Convention imposes a liability on the airline for damages incurred by delay up to approximately $9,000 per passenger unless the airline can show it has taken all necessary measures to prevent delay or there were no such measures."

He's urging people whose international flights are delayed to take the airlines to small claims court.

"Airlines will continue to do it and only stop if it's no longer profitable," he said.

About the Author

Yvonne Colbert

Consumer Watchdog

Yvonne Colbert has been a journalist for nearly 35 years, covering everything from human interest stories to the provincial legislature. These days, she's focused on helping consumers get the most bang for their bucks and avoid being ripped off. She invites story ideas at yvonne.colbert@cbc.ca.

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