What led to holiday travel delays? Sunwing, airline execs set to face committee – National

MPs will hear testimony from Sunwing and other airline executives on Thursday in a highly anticipated committee meeting probing recent holiday travel delays.

Members of the House of Commons Transport, Infrastructure and Communities committee will meet on Jan. 12 to hear from not only the airline executives, but airport authorities, federal agencies and the minister of transport.

The committee met on Monday and agreed to undertake a study into the travel delays and the treatment of air and rail passengers, after thousands of Canadians faced cancellations and delays due to poor weather over the holiday break.

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From 10:30 a.m. to noon ET on Thursday, executives with Air Canada, WestJet and Sunwing will appear.

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They include Kevin O’Connor, vice president of system operations control with Air Canada, and David Rheault, vice president of government and community relations at Air Canada; Andrew Gibbons, vice president of external affairs with WestJet, and Scott Wilson, vice president of flight operations at Westjet; and Len Corrado, president of Sunwing, and Andrew Dawson, president of tour operations at Sunwing Travel Group.

Last week, Corrado and Dawson apologized to customers in a joint statement for Sunwing’s role in holiday travel delays. Hundreds of Canadians were stranded in Mexico and other sunny destinations over the holidays when Sunwing cancelled flights due to a major winter storm.

Click to play video: 'Holding airlines accountable'

Holding airlines accountable

Passengers described being shuffled between hotels, sometimes arriving to find there were no rooms booked for them. The stranded Canadians said Sunwing officials also passed along inaccurate and incomplete information about when they might be able to head home.

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“We regret that we did not meet the level of service our customers expect from Sunwing,” Corrado and Dawson said in the joint statement.

“We had clear failures in execution, particularly in responding to weather-related delays and the aftermath of severe weather disruptions, which limited our ability to reposition aircraft and crew to other airports to help alleviate the backlog in flights.”

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After the executives testify, officials with Montreal and Vancouver’s airport authorities will appear from noon to 1:30 p.m. ET.

Transport Minister Omar Alghabra and transport department officials will testify from 2:30 to 3:30 p.m. ET. More department officials and members of the Canadian Transportation Agency will then speak from 3:30 to 4:30 p.m. ET.

During Monday’s meeting, the transportation committee also agreed to hear from Toronto’s airport authority and VIA Rail. No officials from those organizations were listed as appearing on Thursday.

Click to play video: 'Dealing with flight delays and cancellations in Travel Tips'

Dealing with flight delays and cancellations in Travel Tips

VIA Rail apologized to its customers on Tuesday for its service during the holiday storm, and said it would be launching an external review of its performance over the season.

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VIA Rail left passengers in the lurch as the massive winter storm caused cancellations and delays throughout the Christmas weekend.

Passengers already on board a VIA Rail train became stuck overnight near Kingston, Ont., after a train derailed, forcing them to spend nearly 21 hours on the train with minimal food and water.

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“We know, we should have been more forthcoming in sharing information about trains that were delayed and in communicating updates. We also know we should have adopted a different approach in supporting passengers on trains that were delayed for lengthy periods,” said Via Rail interim president and CEO Martin R Landry in a statement Tuesday.

“Therefore, in addition to offering a full refund to passengers, along with travel credits for those whose trains were completely immobilized, we will be reviewing our performance over the four-day period with the help of outside experts. We will be looking at a wide range of issues including our planning for the storm, our operational response, protocol around customer care and our overall communications as well as how we can better accommodate our passengers in order to get them to their destination.”

Thursday’s committee meeting will be televised by parliamentary services for Canadians to watch live.

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