Passenger not pleased with Porter

Says airline left travellers in lurch with unplanned stop in Stephenville

Published on April 28, 2014
Porter Airlines taxiing out at St. John’s airport. — File photo by Gary Hebbard/The Telegram

Emma Young’s vacation got off to a great start with a visit to Montreal to attend a Cher concert, but flying back home to St. John’s did not go as planned.

Young is not impressed with how Porter Airlines treated her and dozens of other travellers.

“I’ve never been treated so poorly,” Young said Monday afternoon, shortly after completing a 10-hour drive from Stephenville to St. John’s. “I always say, ‘I’ll never fly Air Canada.’ But now I would gladly fly Air Canada instead of Porter.”

This change of heart comes a day after Porter flight 255 failed to land in St. John’s on a foggy Sunday after departing from Halifax. According to Young, passengers were informed prior to departure from Halifax that the plane may not land in St. John’s. It would proceed to Stephenville for refuelling before either attempting another landing in St. John’s or returning to Halifax.

The plane circled St. John’s International Airport for approximately one hour before leaving for Stephenville to refuel. It arrived in Stephenville at 9 p.m.

“At that point in time they told us that coming back to St. John’s to try to land was not an option, that the company had said they want the flight back in Halifax.”

A pilot later presented two options to the passengers — go back to Halifax and possibly wait until Friday for a flight to St. John’s, or get off the plane in Stephenville.

In both scenarios, the passengers would be responsible for the cost of accommodations and getting home.

Staying in Halifax those extra five nights would cost at least $1,000 for those with no friends or family in the area, according to Young, who managed to rent a car with her mother at a cost of $800. That rental cost includes an additional charge for not returning the car to Stephenville.

Young said passengers were aware of other flights landing in St. John’s by checking their cellphones. The airport in Stephenville was closed and there were no Porter agents at the airport. The airline  is set to introduce a route between Stephenville and Halifax in late June.

They remained on the plane for another two hours while passengers decided what they would do. At this point, there was no water on the plane.

“We couldn’t talk to anyone,” said Young, who did however compliment the crew and captain for dealing with a tough situation as well as they could. The captain had to use a flashlight to unload and locate the luggage of the 63 passengers who elected to get off the plane, which seats 74.

A request to have Porter pay for a bus to transport passengers was denied, according to Young.

“They turned their backs on us completely,” she said. “Once we were off the plane, we were no longer their problem and they did nothing for us.”

Young feels passengers deserve compensation for the extra expenses they incurred, but the airline  maintains when weather is a factor, the passenger is responsible for all costs.

“They were told it was their choice (to get off in Stephenville), but any costs for ground transportation or accommodation was their responsibility because the circumstances were weather related,” a Porter spokesman told The Telegram in an email.

“Assistance of this type is typically provided for situations within the airline’s control, such as mechanical delays.”

According to the airliner, passengers were told prior to departing Sunday from Halifax they would get a refund if they chose not to travel and instead booked the next available flight. That would still have entailed possibly waiting in Halifax until Friday.

“We always look at alternatives, such as adding extra flights, to help passengers in situations like this,” wrote the Porter spokesman.

“However, when so many passengers decided to deplane in Stephenville, the need to do so in this case was less urgent because the remaining customers could be accommodated in more reasonable time frames. Passengers were given the best and most accurate information at the time, but this doesn’t account for subsequent efforts to improve the situation. For example, had everyone returned to Halifax, we would make every effort to get them a flight as soon as possible (sooner than five days) based on factors such as aircraft and crew availability.”

arobinson@thetelegram.com

Twitter: @TeleAndrew