Nova Scotia

'I was in full panic mode': How an Air Canada flight turned into a harrowing midnight drive

Angry Air Canada passengers are speaking out after a planned flight from Halifax to Sydney, N.S., turned into a threat to be put on a “no-fly’ list and a harrowing overnight drive in jam-packed taxis.

Air Canada official 'freaked out' and threatened to 'put us on a no-fly list' says irate passenger

An Air Canada plane waits in Toronto. Bad weather slowed an Air Canada flight from Toronto to Halifax, which led to passengers missing the onward flight to Sydney. (Jonathan Castell/CBC)

Angry Air Canada passengers are speaking out after a planned flight from Halifax to Sydney, N.S., ended with a threat to be put on a "no-fly" list and then a harrowing overnight drive in jam-packed taxis. 

For passenger Angela Marsh, a low point came on Dec. 19 when a promised limousine materialized as an old minivan taxi and an uninstalled car seat for her 15-month-old daughter. 

"I had to stand outside at three in the morning in the freezing cold and dark while my baby screamed and cried and [I] tried to figure out how to install this car seat in this old, beat-up van," she said. 

'No-fly list' threat scared passengers

The problems started on Dec. 18 when AC flight 1318 was slow getting out of Toronto, meaning the onward AC flight 8816 to Sydney left Halifax without a couple of dozen passengers. Marsh spoke to an Air Canada official.

"He was very rude and intimidating. Basically, he asked the group who all wanted to go home that night," she told CBC News on Wednesday.

Angela Marsh and her daughter had a rough drive from Halifax to Sydney in the middle of the night. (Courtesy Angela Marsh)

David Brown was on the same flight with his son and nephew. Brown asked what their options were, but said the Air Canada employee would not give any.

"He just lost it. He freaked out. He picked up his phone, ran down the aisle, and came back with a police officer," Brown told CBC News in a phone interview Wednesday. 

Halifax Regional Police spokeswoman Diane Penfound confirmed an officer was called by staff to a "verbal dispute" at about 12:15 a.m. The officer spoke to passengers, but took no action.

""Regarding the behaviour of the airline employee, we would be unable to speak to this and I would suggest that you contact the airline," Penfound said. 

Air Canada official 'extremely agitated' 

Brown said the official didn't tell them when the next flight would be, or if they could overnight at a hotel and get taxis in the morning.

"He told us he was calling Air Canada and was going to put us on a no-fly list so that we couldn't fly Air Canada ever again," Brown said. 

"The Air Canada representative got very aggressive and called the police on these men," Marsh said. "I can only speak for myself, but I know that I was very scared then to even let him know that I wasn't comfortable with shuttling home at 1 a.m. with my 15-month-old baby, who was exhausted."

Autumn Rideout, another passenger on the flight, said she heard the "no-fly" threat. In an email to CBC News, she confirmed the outlines of the other passengers' accounts. She said when Brown and his group spoke out, the Air Canada official lashed out. 

"The male AC rep then got extremely agitated, pointing his finger at them with a puffed chest. You could tell he had a long night and was waiting for someone to say something so he could lash out because, even though these men did not once stand up or act aggressively towards him or anyone else, he called the police on them," she said. 

Brown and his relatives declined to squeeze into the minivan taxi Air Canada offered them and later were driven home in a more spacious SUV taxi. 

'I was in full panic mode'

Marsh wound up in a cramped minivan taxi with her daughter, her luggage, plus three other women and their luggage. At least two passengers didn't have seatbelts. One woman held a stroller on her lap for the five-hour drive. 

Rideout was in the taxi with Marsh. She didn't have a seat belt and spent the five hours teetering on the edge of her seat squished against the door. She and others asked the driver to slow down, but she said he drove most of the way at 130 kilometres an hour. 

"I have never been so scared for my life and others as I was that night. I held back my tears in the car because I was so upset about the baby's seat conditions and how she kept getting sick due to the long travel day and reckless driving," Rideout said. 

Marsh agreed.

"It was a very scary drive," she said. "I was in a full panic. The whole time I was staring at the road ... praying he wasn't going to go off the road."

They arrived at about 8 a.m. Marsh and her child had been travelling for 21 hours at that point.

"She was not doing well. She ... vomited twice in the car."

Consumer advocate and frequent flier Gabor Lukacs helped some of the passengers make their complaints to Air Canada via his Facebook page. (CBC)

Marsh emailed Air Canada with details of her complaint, with the help of Gabor Lukacs, the passenger's rights advocate behind the Facebook group Air Passenger Rights. She hasn't heard from them.

"I think it was absolutely terrible how they treated adults, let alone a small baby," she said. 

Air Canada says 'we do our best'

Air Canada spokeswoman Isabelle Arthur did not agree to a phone interview, but did email a statement. 

"We certainly do our best to get our customers to their final destinations quickly and when possible will hold onward connecting flights, but unfortunately could not that day due to crew duty day constraints," she said. "What we then do is book customers on first flights with available seats or offer ground transportation. During our holiday peak when flights are full passengers often elect to take ground transportation."

Air Canada did not answer specific questions, such as when the next flight was available, if it was safe to send passengers out on a five-hour winter drive at 3 a.m., or what the Air Canada employee meant by warning passengers they could be put on a no-fly list. Air Canada also did not explain why the employee called the police.