Air Transat passed up offers to help stranded passengers, Ottawa airport says

But the airline is pointing fingers at airport
Air Transat

The Ottawa International Airport Authority says it was prepared to distribute food and water to passengers who were stuck on the tarmac for six hours following a transatlantic flight, but the airline did not take it up on the offers of assistance.

The Air Transat flight had originated in Brussels and was meant to land in Montreal on Monday but that the 336 passengers were told it would not be possible because of storms.

The captain then diverted the plane to Ottawa.

Passenger Maryanne Zehil said it was very hot in the plane and that some passengers were having trouble breathing.

She added that one person called 911 and that is when bottles of water were handed out. At that point, passengers had been in the Airbus A330 for 15 hours.

"We were stuck on the ground for six hours," Zehil said in an interview. "At one point there was no more power. There was no air. Children were crying. It was really bad because we didn't know why we weren't allowed to get off so the problem could be solved.

"It was inhumane and unacceptable."

Air Transat (TSX:TRZ) apologized in a statement to passengers on Tuesday.

"Following yesterday's violent late-afternoon thunderstorms in Montreal, some of our flights from Europe and the South had to be diverted to other airports," it said.

"Unfortunately, this unusual situation beyond our control caused delays of several hours for our passengers."

It said nearly 30 planes, belonging to several airlines, were diverted to Ottawa.

"As a result, Ottawa airport staff were unable to provide with loading bridges or stairs that would have enabled the passengers on the Brussels flight to disembark or our ground crews to replenish the aircraft's empty drinking water reservoir," the statement added.

"The shortage of fuel also explains the lack of air conditioning on board for a time."

On Tuesday, the Ottawa International Airport Authority disputed this version of events.

It said buses were on the tarmac, ready to shuttle passengers to the terminal, but neither the airline or its ground handlers requested the service.

“Our team was on standby shortly after the first diversion landed, but our services were not requested,” the airport said in a statement.

“We keep a supply of water, food, diapers and other personal hygiene necessities to support passenger needs in irregular operation scenarios, and were prepared to deploy these supplies. Although our staff tried several times to contact the aircrew through the handlers to provide further assistance, the air crew was non-communicative and did not take us up on our offers to assist further.”

A spokesperson in the federal Transport Department said such incidents will not be able to happen again once Bill C-49 becomes law.

The legislation will force airlines to give passengers water, food and the possibility of getting off a plane, as long as it is safe, after being stuck three hours on a runway.

It will also oblige airlines to explain delays to passengers.

– With reporting by OBJ staff