Flair Airlines has apologized for a situation at Vancouver International Airport that saw a pilot call the police to deal with frustrated passengers at the gate, some of whom had been waiting 14 hours before their flight was cancelled.
The Flair flight, scheduled to depart at noon on Tuesday, was delayed repeatedly due to maintenance issues before being cancelled at about midnight.
RCMP officers arrived at the gate after 11 p.m. and explained re-booking and accommodation options to passengers, according to the RCMP and a Flair customer who filmed part of the encounter.
One lady missed her brother's funeral. Another had missed a court appearance. They were just really distraught.Caroline Tess
Caroline Tess, who posted the video to Facebook, was critical of the use of police to communicate airline policies to passengers and says that while some passengers were rude to airline staff at the gate desk, none of them posed a threat.
"Of course people are upset, but I would never use the word aggressive or say that they were a danger or anything," Tess said in an interview. "One lady missed her brother's funeral. Another had missed a court appearance. They were just really distraught."
The RCMP, which has officers at the airport around the clock, said it was responding to a disturbance call at the gate. Several officers listened to passengers' concerns and "offered the information they had and some advice," said RCMP spokeswoman Dawn Roberts.'
A Flair pilot called the RCMP late Tuesday night, but he did not ask the officers to relay flight or hotel booking options, said Flair spokeswoman Julie Rempel.
"It's never happened before...They just decided to take control of the messaging and the information to make sure that everybody would remain calm," she said. "There was absolutely no request for them to deliver any customer service messaging of any sort.
"Did we do everything right? Probably not. But we absolutely acknowledge that and apologize for that," she said. The airline is "looking into how it can better manage the situation in the future," she added.
Passenger rights advocate Gabor Lukacs — who was hired as a consultant for Flair this month — called the incident "egregious" and said police should steer clear of civil matters between passengers and an airline.
"They were assuming the role that Flair's agents would assume normally," Lukacs said. "Police officers should never be called on peaceful passengers, unless the passenger is threatening, unless the passenger is violent."
Passengers lay out frustrations
Flair said it gave passengers full refunds or helped book them other flights later in the week. It also provided hotel rooms, issued meal vouchers and is in the process of offering $200 future travel credit, the airline said.
In the video, passengers are seen laying their frustrations to three RCMP officers.
"I have to get home. I have a job that I have to do at a trial tomorrow morning. I've been here since 10 a.m. I could have made other arrangements," one woman says. "And I'm sorry, you shouldn't have to represent them. Flair Air should be here talking to us about this."
Flair's right of care policy states that a "schedule irregularity" lasting more than eight hours obligates the low-cost carrier to provide overnight hotel accommodation for passengers who don't live in the city.
I have to get home. I have a job that I have to do at a trial tomorrow morning. I've been here since 10 a.m. I could have made other arrangements.Flair passenger
"Eight hours came and went...hours ago," one passenger says in the video.
"I'll tell you something, if I were in your shoes I'd be fuming right now," an officer responds.
Flair said it provided updates every 15 minutes to passengers, noting the airline was awaiting word from maintenance crews.
Flair started off as a charter airline, but began offering scheduled service in 2017, offering about 200 domestic flights weekly as of last June.
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