Passengers on a Cancun, Mexico-bound flight from Toronto were left stranded for several hours on Saturday after their aircraft made an emergency landing in New Orleans due to a mechanical issue.
Sunwing Flight 511 left Pearson International Airport just after 10 a.m. on Saturday but had to land at Louis Armstrong International Airport in New Orleans at 1:32 p.m., Marcelo Gomez, who was a passenger on the flight, told CBC News.
Sunwing confirmed the flight was diverted because of a mechanical issue with the Boeing 767-300 aircraft, which had 222 customers on board.
In a statement to CBC News, the airline said passengers have since landed at their destination on another flight that took off last night after the hours-long detour.
The plane had an engine problem and had to land in New Orleans. Local authorities could not host our group at the airport so we had to wait for four hours onboard,” Gomez said.
But the Toronto resident said being stuck on board the grounded aircraft was only the beginning of their ordeal.
“According to regulations, airplanes cannot have passengers on board for more than four hours, so around 4:40 [p.m.], we left the plane and local authorities put us in a closed room that looked like a big hallway or tunnel,” Gomez explained.
He said they ended up spending another three hours in that area.
The Sunwing crew onboard were “excellent, very nice, patient [and] empathetic,” and even ordered pizza for everyone, Gomez said, but the real problem started after they exited the disabled aircraft.
“[There was] zero communication with customers and [the] call centre had no information to provide,” Gomez said.
“It’s critical for companies in cases like this one to communicate often with their customers; otherwise it looks terrible on them and creates a lot of frustration such as the one I’ve seen this afternoon everywhere around me.”
In a statement to CBC News, Sunwing said the company said they did not have any staff on the ground to support communications because they do not regularly operate out of the New Orleans airport.
“Because of the unplanned nature of the landing, the airport was very busy and it took us many hours to find a secured area for our customers to deplane to,” Sunwing added.
Sunwing passengers wait in New Orleans to board a replacement flight to Cancun after their plane was forced to make an emergency landing on Saturday. (Supplied by Marcelo Gomez.)
The plane that suffered mechanical trouble was recently leased by Sunwing from Eastern Airlines, according to publicly available aircraft registration data.
It was leased to cover the loss of four Boeing 737 Max 8 aircraft that were grounded by Transport Canada on March 13 in wake of the Ethiopian Airlines disaster.
Gomez told CBC News that passengers were advised Saturday night that another plane had been sent from Miami to take passengers to Cancun.
“We are very apologetic for this unfortunate start to their vacation and have compensated accordingly,” Sunwing said.