Air Canada passengers stranded in Costa Rica for 32 hours

Air Canada passengers are complaining about a frustrating 32-hour odyssey that left them stranded in the Costa Rican capital of San José.

'They just simply couldn't get it together,' says passenger about Sunday's flight

Air Canada passengers said they were stranded in San José, Costa Rica for 36 hours because of a headcount error. (Mike Hillman/CBC News)

An Air Canada flight carrying 273 passengers was delayed for 32 hours in the Costa Rican capital of San José because of a passenger count problem.

"It was technically a 'reconciliation error' between [the] computer count and the physical passenger count on board which revealed one person was missing," said Air Canada spokesman Peter Fitzpatrick. "For safety and security reasons, aircraft cannot depart in such situations."

Pamela Machado, a Milton, Ont.-based lawyer, said passengers boarded the flight at 8:30 a.m. Sunday and were told of a headcount problem. She said they were permitted to deplane at 2 p.m. to get food and were asked to reboard at 3:30 p.m. But at 7:15 p.m., the crew announced the flight had been cancelled, she said.

Machado, who was seated in business class, said the conditions on the grounded plane were poor. Some passengers in economy later complained of poor air circulation and lack of access to food and water, she said.

"My biggest concern wasn't myself but there were families that had small children," she told CBC. 

Machado said communication was sporadic and some travellers were provided with accommodation. She said the travellers were rebooked for a flight at 3 p.m. the next day, but further delays ensued when the check-in counter was closed and the group was herded to another area of the airport.

"They just simply couldn't get it together," she said. Those on the plane were "walking over each other trying to get to the other end of the airport." 

Fitzpatrick said the cost of the return portion of the trip will be refunded and passengers will also be offered a goodwill gesture. 

"We are very sorry about the impact on our customers and we fully recognize the inconvenience it causes when flights are delayed," he said.

But Machado said 100 travellers are joining a complaint letter she is filing that requests full compensation. She says the airline should take into account people's lost wages and missed connections.

Passenger rights proposal coming

​The government plans to introduce a new set of guidelines regarding passenger rights, Transport Minister Marc Garneau said last November. The proposed guidelines will set compensation standards for passengers who are bumped from flights as well as rules for lost luggage.

According to the most recent annual tally compiled by the Canadian Transportation Agency, there were 635 complaints regarding flight disruptions in 2014-2015.