Transportation agency demands answers after stranded airline passengers call 911

The Canadian Transportation Agency is demanding Air Transat explain why passengers on two of its planes diverted to Ottawa on Monday ended up being stranded inside the aircraft for hours — long enough for a pair of flyers to call 911.

CTA to launch inquiry after Air Transat planes stuck on Ottawa tarmac for hours

Emergency crews surround an Air Transat flight that sat for hours at the Ottawa airport on Monday night. (Stephane Beaudoin/CBC)

The Canadian Transportation Agency is demanding Air Transat explain why passengers on two of its planes diverted to Ottawa on Monday ended up being stranded inside the aircraft for hours — long enough for a pair of flyers to call 911.

Air Transat Flight 157 from Brussels was scheduled to arrive in Montreal at 3:15 p.m. ET Monday, but was diverted to Ottawa after circling east of Montreal due to thunderstorms.

The flight landed at the Ottawa airport just after 5 p.m. ET, following more than eight hours of flying time, and then sat on the tarmac for six additional hours. Passengers were not allowed to get off.

Air Transat Flight 507, from Rome to Montreal, was also diverted to Ottawa due to the weather. It was scheduled to land in Montreal at 4:50 p.m. ET, but landed in Ottawa at about 6 p.m. ET after nine hours and 45 minutes of flying time.

The plane then sat on the tarmac for four hours. Again, passengers were unable to leave the aircraft.

In a statement Wednesday, the CTA said it was launching an inquiry to determine whether Air Transat respected its tariff — a document that sets out, among other things, an airline's rights and responsibilities towards its passengers.

According to that tariff, in the case of an on-board delay more than 90 minutes, Air Transat promises to offer passengers the option of getting off the plane.

Passengers could be compensated

"Given that the delays were reported to have greatly exceeded 90 minutes, Air Transat should have, according to its tariff, offered passengers the option of disembarking until it was time to depart," the CTA said in its preliminary finding issued Monday.

Air Transat now has until 5 p.m. ET on Friday , Aug. 4,  to explain why the agency shouldn't rule that they misapplied the tariff, said CTA spokesperson Martine Maltais.

"Should Air Transat fail to prove this, the agency could issue an order for appropriate corrective measures, including compensation for any expenses incurred by passengers," Maltais said in an email.

"In addition, possible corrective measures could include policy changes and training to ensure that the situation is not repeated."

Under the Canada Transportation Act, the CTA can both compel Air Transat to take part in the inquiry and issue a decision if they fail to show up, Maltais added.

No food, little information

One woman on the Brussels flight told CBC News that passengers were stuck in a sweltering cabin without air conditioning after the plane ran out of fuel. 

Passengers were given limited information about what was going on, said Laura Mah, and food was being rationed so that children on board could have something to eat.

Staff with the Ottawa International Airport Authority were handing out bottles of water, and the plane's doors had been opened to let air circulate.

"I'm super pissed," Mah said on Monday. "I'm just really hot, I'm sweating, and I haven't eaten … I'm hungry and they only rationed the food to give little snacks to kids, which is good. Luckily, they started bringing in bottles of water from the outside, like 45 minutes ago, but no food. I'm starving."

'Poorly handled'

After the inquiry was announced, Mah told CBC Radio's Ottawa Morning that the decision confirmed, in her mind, that Air Transat messed up.

"It kind of just validates that what had happened was not OK, and obviously what went down at that time was poorly handled," she said Tuesday.

Scott Streiner, chair and CEO of the CTA, vowed that the inquiry into Air Transat's actions would be both thorough and swift.

"This inquiry will determine, based on the evidence and the law, whether the treatment of passengers on the two flights was in line with the airline's obligations — and if not, what corrective measures should be ordered," Streiner said in a statement.

Scott Streiner, CEO of the Canadian Transportation Agency, said the inquiry into how Air Transat handled the lengthy delays of two of its flights at Ottawa's Macdonald-Cartier International Airport this week would be carried out 'as quickly as possible.' (CBC)

"We'll get it done as quickly as possible, but we'll take the time required to gather all the facts."

The CTA said they had received 10 complaints relating to the case, and that those would be addressed through the inquiry.

Air Transat told CBC News in a French-language email that the unusual amount of traffic at the Ottawa airport Monday meant that airport staff weren't able to provide bridges or stairways to allow passengers to disembark.

The airline said it was "sincerely sorry for the inconvenience" and that the situation was "beyond our control."

However, the airport authority said there was both a gate and air stairs available, and they were prepared to bring supplies beyond just bottled water to the stranded passengers — but never received clearance from Air Transat.

Air Transat's international flights tariff

With files from CBC's Ottawa Morning


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