Ottawa

WestJet passengers fuming after being 'abandoned' in Mexico

Members of an Ottawa family say they felt abandoned in downtown Cancun, Mexico, after their return flight was first delayed and then cancelled last weekend.

Some passengers left to own devices after Cancun-to-Ottawa flight cancelled

David Cimpello said he will never fly WestJet again after he and his family were left on a dark street in downtown Cancun on Saturday. The airline says after the Cancun-to-Ottawa flight was cancelled, it offered accommodations, but due to an error by its 'booking partner,' some hotel rooms weren't available. (Robyn Miller/CBC )

Some WestJet passengers say they felt "abandoned" in downtown Cancun, Mexico, after their return flight was first delayed and then cancelled on the weekend.

David Cimpello, his wife and two teenagers were supposed to fly home to Ottawa on Saturday, but their flight was cancelled after sitting on the tarmac for more than four hours.

They soon found themselves, along with more than 100 other stranded passengers, on a dark side street after a shuttle dropped them at a hotel that wasn't expecting them. 

"It's a situation that nobody should have been put in," said Cimpello from his home in Stittsville, Ont., a suburban community that's part of Ottawa, on Monday.

"I think it's shameful for WestJet that they allowed this to happen. I think it's shameful that the captain left, and left everybody there."

It's a situation that nobody should have been put in.- David Cimpello, WestJet passenger

Cimpello said his family arrived at the Cancun airport at 10 a.m. Saturday to board Flight WS2841, but a mechanical issue kept the plane grounded for hours. 

He said passengers were offered no food and little water while they waited on the tarmac, and were finally told around 4:30 p.m. that the plane wouldn't be flying out that day.

Luc Gervais was among those who scrambled to find accommodation in an unfamiliar part of Cancun after his WestJet flight was delayed and then cancelled. 0:30

Cimpello said things got more confusing as frustrated passengers tried to get answers about what would happen next. 

Around 7:15 p.m., they were loaded onto shuttle buses to go to a hotel for the night. They were informed the transportation and accommodation would be covered by WestJet, Cimpello said.

But when they arrived at the City Express hotel in downtown Cancun, Cimpello said hotel staff were unaware the tourists were coming and asked for payment upfront.

Passengers flooded parking lot

"It's downtown Cancun, so it's not the tourist area that we're in. And a lot of passengers didn't have cellphones, they didn't have money, they had small children with them," Cimpello said.

"It was just very confusing, and you realized at that point that you had been abandoned by WestJet. The buses left and it was sort of that moment where [we realized] we're on our own here."

Betty Clarke was also there with her family, including two young grandchildren. She said WestJet should be ashamed for treating passengers that way.

She said her seven-year-old grandson was so scared when the buses left that he began getting sick.

David Cimpello says he'll never fly Westjet again after his family's flight from Cancun was delayed several hours and then cancelled. He says the airline then sent them by bus to a hotel that wasn't expecting them. 0:36

'He started to cry'

"He started to cry and he was throwing up on the sidewalk. It was just a horrendous experience and literally I felt like we were a herd of cattle," Clarke said.

Both the Cimpello and Clarke families were able to hail taxis to take them to another hotel. They managed to get a flight home the following day.

"Technical issues happen with airplanes. It's everything that happened afterwards that really took this to a different level," Cimpello said. 

"I can tell you, I'll never step on a WestJet plane ever again. Like, there's no chance, in any situation. They've lost my business forever."

He said he and other passengers are considering legal action.

'Not a shining moment'

Richard Bartrem, WestJet's vice-president of communications, said the company acknowledges it failed passengers.

"This was obviously not a shining moment for WestJet. We pride ourselves on the guest experience we provide to customers and we have obviously failed them in this situation," he said.

He said the plane had a maintenance problem that kept recurring just as it got to the front of the line to take off, which is why passengers were kept on the plane for so long.  

The company uses a third party to do hotel bookings, including for flight crews, and Bartrem said that company generally handles these situations well.

"We were under the impression that as we put these people on buses, we were sending them to hotels."

He said WestJet is trying to figure out exactly what went amiss.  

"We are doing a fulsome investigation on our end to determine how is it we got it this wrong," he said. 

He said the company is reaching out to all passengers to offer compensation.

In December, Transport Minister Marc Garneau officially unveiled the first version of the long-awaited air passenger bill of rights.

The draft is now open for public review and comment, but will not be in force until summer at the earliest.