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“Chaos erupted”: Flair Airlines leaves at least 50 passengers behind at YYJ

Customers say lack of staffing and disorganization led many to miss domestic flights

Robyn Bell
September 1, 2023
Latest News
News
Based on facts either observed and verified firsthand by the reporter, or reported and verified from knowledgeable sources.

“Chaos erupted”: Flair Airlines leaves at least 50 passengers behind at YYJ

Customers say lack of staffing and disorganization led many to miss domestic flights

Robyn Bell
Sep 1, 2023
Photo: Shutterstock
Photo: Shutterstock
Latest News
News
Based on facts either observed and verified firsthand by the reporter, or reported and verified from knowledgeable sources.

“Chaos erupted”: Flair Airlines leaves at least 50 passengers behind at YYJ

Customers say lack of staffing and disorganization led many to miss domestic flights

Robyn Bell
September 1, 2023
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“Chaos erupted”: Flair Airlines leaves at least 50 passengers behind at YYJ

Nicole Kemp was looking forward to having dinner with family members she hadn’t seen in two years. 

Rony Mazumder planned to see his favourite artist, Sonu Nigam, perform in Hamilton, Ont. 

For them and many others who had booked domestic flights with Flair Airlines last Saturday, these plans wouldn’t fly. Nor would they. 

At least 50 people were stranded at the airport when long lines for Flair's baggage check-in moved at a glacial pace on an  afternoon in which the airline scheduled three flights to major cities—Toronto, Calgary, and Ottawa—within 15 minutes of each other.

According to both Kemp and Mazumber, the line was more than 100 people long with only three Flair staff members handling the check-in. Mazumber arrived at 2:15pm for the 4:45pm flight to Toronto, with Kemp 15 minutes behind. For domestic flights in Canada, it’s recommended  passengers arrive between 90 and 120 mins before departure, putting Kemp and Mazumber well ahead of that timeline.

“We had checked-in online the night before, but this was going to be a longer trip for us so we had purchased baggage up front when we bought our tickets,” said Kemp. When she and her partner saw the “massive line” at the Flair check-in, they were optimistic steps would be taken to ensure everyone made their flight.

As the clock ticked  and the line barely moved, passengers became anxious. At one point, according to Kemp, a person instructed all passengers going to Toronto to move into a separate line. It turned out this was not an airport or Flair staff member, but rather another customer—however, many people followed the directive, creating a confusing mass of people converging on one side of the Flair desk.

At 4pm, Mazumber was third from the front of the line, about to be checked in when Flair staff announced the check-in was closed and that “all of you are not getting on your flights”—they grabbed their personal belongings and walked away from the desk leaving dozens of people confused about what had just happened.

“Chaos erupted—people started shouting,” said Kemp. “We’re all trying to get information from passengers closer to the front to find out what had been communicated, which was basically nothing.”

Kemp, Mazumber and other passengers began sharing contact info with one another and calling Flair to receive help. One person allegedly spoke to a security controller who said, had they known about the issue, they would have delayed the flights to allow people to get on. It’s not clear whether the security person worked for Flair or YYJ.

“Everyone calling [Flair’s] number was told ‘in our system, we don’t have an incident reported and therefore there’s nothing we can do for you,’” said Kemp. “Flair staff were reporting to the company that the flight took off without incident and we were like, ‘we have dozens of people who would beg to differ.’”

“It’s not the passengers’ fault, but they’re pushing it that we have not shown up,” said Mazumber. “I can’t believe they left 50 people and just departed—everyone was dumbfounded.”

Kemp and her partner had to scramble to find alternative flights out, spending $600 on a one-way ticket to Toronto with Air Canada for the following day—missing what she thinks could have been her last time to visit elderly family members.

She says she knows of a family of five who had to take a ferry to Vancouver in the hope of getting a flight out from there, saying “who knows how much that cost them.”

Victoria International Airport. Photo: James MacDonald / Capital Daily

Mazumber asked to be rebooked on the next flight to Toronto, but it wouldn’t leave Victoria until Tuesday—the day he planned to return from Toronto. He had to cancel his AirBnbs, his trip to Hamilton and Niagara, and his concert tickets, most of which did not provide refunds that close to the date of booking. He estimates he lost at least $1000 in the ordeal.

Even if Flair does compensate for the flights Mazumber said, “it’s just a refund of airfare, not everything else.”

Since then, Kemp received responses from Flair saying “there were no issues, you should have shown up earlier.” Mazumber still has not heard anything back from Flair.

“The desk doesn’t even open until three hours before the flight and frankly, it doesn’t seem to matter when you show up—they’re not getting you through,” said Kemp. “They’re not offering any money back, not even for the baggage they didn’t take.”

A Flair spokesperson responded to Capital Daily’s questions, saying “Flair Airlines takes full responsibility for this situation, and we regret the impact it had on our customers' travel plans. We are diligently investigating the issues to identify their underlying causes and address them promptly. For passengers who have been affected, we will be reaching out via email in the coming days to arrange full refunds.” 

At the time of reporting, no passengers had been contacted yet.

Mazumber also reached out to the operations department at YYJ but the only response they gave was “we’re sorry.” 

“Yeah, I understand you’re sorry but that doesn’t solve my problem,” said Mazumber. “There has to be some accountability.”

Kemp and Mazumber have both filed complaints with the Canadian Transportation Agency (CTA), though this can take up to a month to receive a response.

Kemp said it’s unlikely she’ll ever fly with Flair again.

“Unless there’s major grovelling or compensation for us and all other passengers, I wouldn’t fly with them,” said Kemp. “They need to make this right with all affected passengers.”

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Robyn Bell
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