David Kitchen of Oakville, Ontario was one of the many passengers stuck on an airplane during the brutal polar vortex that took Ontario and much of Canada by storm on Tuesday. As a result, Kitchen nearly missed a funeral that he was due to attend in Victoria the following day. The airplane that he was on - an Air Canada flight from Toronto to Victoria - was stuck on the tarmac at Toronto Pearson Airport for almost seven hours.
Kitchen boarded his flight at approximately 8:00 PM on Tuesday, but the airplane didn't take off until almost 7 hours later, at 2:50 a.m. on Wednesday morning due to icy conditions, CBC reports. According to Air Canada, the flight had to be refuelled because it waited for such an extended period of time.
During that time, Kitchen reported that passengers were unaware of whether or not the flight would ultimately be cancelled, as was the case for hundreds of flights affected by the winter storm that wreaked havoc at Pearson International. Passengers waited on board with almost no information and limited food and water.
Four hours into the wait, passengers were offered the opportunity to deboard the plane. The crew, however, neglected to provide any information regarding passengers' options thereafter. For example, whether they were eligible for rescheduling their flight or receiving a refund. As a result, few people actually decided to get off the plane, according to Kitchen.
"Nothing was really explained properly or thoroughly. People were definitely wanting to get off the plane, but they couldn't make a decision because they had no information from Air Canada about what was going on."
Although passengers received a bag of nuts after they had waited for several hours on the tarmac, the Air Canada flight staff refused to serve any meals until after the plane departed. Anxious that he would miss the funeral, Kitchen felt he had no alternative options but to remain on the flight and hope it would take off, eventually.
A spokesperson for the airline, Peter Fitzpatrick, defensively responded in an email to CBC."This flight offers a buy-on board service, so it was not possible to provide everyone a meal. Also, after returning to the gate, the bridge was attached and customers could deplane, although few did."
The plane arrived five hours and 36 minutes delayed in Victoria on Wednesday.
Airlines are supposed to allow passengers off the tarmac after 90 minutes, as per Canadian standards, according to Gabor Lukacs. Lukacs is the founder of Air Passenger Rights, an independent advocacy non-profit network, comprised of a teamof volunteers who strive to make the travelling public aware of their rights as passengers.
However, Air Canada modified its terms and conditions just last year to allow for passengers to be kept on the tarmac for 4 hours. Lukacs informed CBC that his organization launched a formal complaint against Air Canada with the Canadian Transportation Agency last May.
"Our position is that keeping people on the tarmac for three or four hours is unreasonable and unlawful," he said, calling it a "form of forcible confinement."
According to Kitchen, the airline has not yet disclosed whether it plans to compensate customers for the "inconvenience". With countless flights cancelled and delayed on Tuesday, Air Canada has commented that its current priority remains to restore its schedule. The spokesperson for the airline has insisted that it's "just beginning to assess the storm's impact" and will "respond appropriately in due course".