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Transport minister calls Sunwing chaos ‘unacceptable’ as passengers remain stranded

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It is “unacceptable” that hundreds of Canadian passengers remain stuck in Mexico after Sunwing cancelled their flights home — and the federal government is “concerned,” Transport Minister Omar Alghabra says.

His comments come after Canadians described being shuffled between hotels in Mexico, sometimes arriving to find there were no rooms booked for them, saying Sunwing officials have so far passed along inaccurate and incomplete information about when they might be able to head home.

Passengers who have managed to return home say their Sunwing flights appeared “half-empty,” even as hundreds of Canadians remain stranded in Cancun, Mexico, following significant disruptions over the weekend after a major winter storm disrupted travel plans across the country.

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“Canadians are patient when it comes to weather disruptions but they rightly expect their airlines to keep them informed and to manage these disruptions smoothly,” Alghabra said in a Wednesday tweet.

“I am very concerned with the current situation with Sunwing Airlines.”

The ongoing situation, Alghabra added, is “unacceptable.”

“Canadians must receive the information they need to return home safely. We expect all airlines to keep their passengers informed when it comes to delivering a service that they were paid to do,” he wrote.

“Passengers have rights under the Air Passenger Protection Regulations to ensure robust passenger protection in situations like these, and our government will continue to ensure these rights are protected.”

But even as the minister points to passengers’ rights, Canadians are feeling the impact of the Sunwing chaos. Allan McLeod and Deanna Correia took a Sunwing flight to Cuba for their wedding. But as they sat on the plane, a crew member said the flight was going to leave without their luggage.

The couple arrived at their destination for the wedding, but had “no luggage, no wedding attire, no wedding decorations as well,” McLeod told Global News.

Correia added that they’ve received little information from Sunwing about when their wedding supplies will arrive, which has left her “frustrated” and “angry.”

“Something has to be done to make these companies, (these) airlines accountable,” she said.

The soon-to-be newlyweds aren’t alone in their frustration. Sheldon de Souza was among those trapped in Mexico as a result of Sunwing’s cancellations, alongside his wife, three kids and three family friends.

De Souza’s flight home on Dec. 21 was cancelled, according to The Canadian Press, though he says only some passengers were told.

“It felt like Sunwing just abandoned us, they didn’t care,” de Souza said. “It’s not even that they made an effort, they forgot us.”

Gabor Lukacs, president and founder of the Air Passenger Rights group, says passengers grappling with cancelled flights and inadequate information about when they might be rebooked should buy their own tickets home with a different carrier, and keep careful records and receipts of their expenses.

If Sunwing refuses to compensate them under the federal Air Passenger Protection Regulations, they should take the matter to small claims court, Lukacs said in an interview with The Canadian Press.

“We’re at a point in Canada where suing an airline is not simply about your own money, it’s about changing how they operate. It’s about behaviour modification,” he said.

“And that’s where the government is derelict in its duties to the public.”

Feds pledge accountability amid VIA Rail disruptions

Sunwing passengers aren’t the only Canadians facing massive travel hurdles over the holidays. VIA Rail left passengers in the lurch as the massive winter storm caused cancellations and delays throughout the Christmas weekend.

Passengers already on board of a VIA Rail train became stuck overnight near Kingston after a train derailed, forcing them to spend nearly 21 hours on the train with minimal food and water.

Pauline McNally arrived at Union Station in Toronto to pick up her brother on Friday night. With poor communication from VIA Rail and her brother’s train facing continual delays, she ended up waiting at the station for the entire night.

“Communication has been absolutely terrible,” she told Global News from Union Station on Saturday morning.

“I honestly think … they didn’t know, or what they knew, they didn’t want to share. And we got a totally different story depending on who we talked to.”

McNally’s brother, who suffers from short-term memory issues, couldn’t carry a credit card. He only had cash with him on board — which most VIA Rail trains don’t accept — prompting concerns from his sister that he wouldn’t have enough food.

“He couldn’t even buy food. So he’s been on that train, and if someone didn’t give him food, he didn’t have any,” she said.

At the station, multiple travellers expressed frustration that there was no contingency planning done for the storm. Passengers described arriving at the station with their bags packed, only to be told that their train had been cancelled as they waited in line.

Extra costs were incurred as passengers were forced to book hotels or rent cars — though many rentals were fully booked — while others were forced to miss or or pay a higher ticket price when they rebooked seats on another train.

In a statement sent to Global News on Wednesday, a spokesperson for VIA Rail said they “deeply regret the stress this has caused our passengers.”

“VIA Rail, of course, is providing a full refund and a travel credit to all the passengers who were on board trains that were delayed through the night,” the spokesperson said.

“From power outages to trees on the tracks and even a tree falling on a locomotive, conditions on the infrastructure maintained by CN made it impossible to move some of our trains.”

While VIA Rail said it tried to keep customers as “comfortable” as possible, they were unable to “replenish supplies of food and water” due to road closures in the area, and were “unable to empty the toilets.”

“All passengers reached their final destinations by the end of the day December 24th, but we do understand that for some it was a trying experience,” the spokesperson said.

As for the cancellations between December 24 and 26, the VIA Rail spokesperson said “all passengers” that had their trips cancelled “will automatically receive a full refund.”

“These passengers must contact VIA Customer Centre if they wish to obtain a refund for any connection or return trips on the same booking,” the statement added.

The spokesperson did not expand on what compensation those impacted by the “modified schedule” on Dec. 27 can expect, and did not acknowledge complaints about passengers being charged for food on trains that were stuck on the tracks overnight.

The transport minister also weighed in on the VIA Rail situation, using the same term he used to criticize the Sunwing situation: “unacceptable.”

“Passengers deserve to be communicated with, especially during the unprecedented weather conditions Canadians were experiencing. The safety of crew and passengers is always a top priority,” read a statement from Alghabra’s office.

“Our government will continue to work with partners and hold all those involved accountable.”

As for McNally, she did see one upside to the transport troubles that hampered her holiday plans.

“I think I’d make a good Christmas movie,” she said.

Transport minister calls Sunwing chaos ‘unacceptable’ as passengers remain stranded

— with files from The Canadian Press, Global News’ Ahmar Khan

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Uber brings back ride share for some Canadian cities — but under a new name – Global News

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Uber brings back ride share for some Canadian cities — but under a new name  Global NewsView Full Coverage on Google News

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'Not telling us the truth': NSP customers complain utility isn't transparent about outages – CBC.ca

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Tiny wines find home in B.C.’s market, as Canadians consider reducing consumption

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VANCOUVER — Wine lovers have growing options on the shelf to enjoy their favourite beverage as producers in B.C. offer smaller container sizes.

Multiple British Columbia wineries over the last several years have begun offering their product in smaller, single-serve cans and bottles.

Along with making wine more attractive to those looking to toss some in a backpack or sip on the golf course, the petite containers leave wineries with options for a potential shift in mindset as Canadians discuss the health benefits of reducing alcohol consumption.

Vancouver-based wine consultant Kurtis Kolt said he’s watched the segment of the wine industry offering smaller bottles and cans “explode” over the last several years, particularly during the COVID-19 pandemic when people were meeting outdoors in parks and beaches and looking for something more portable to take with them.

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“You’re not taking a hit on quality, you know? In fact, if someone is only going to be having a glass or two, you’re cracking a can and it’s completely fresh, guaranteed,” he said.

It’s also an advantage for people who want to drink less, he said.

“It’s much less of a commitment to crack open a can or a small bottle or a smaller vessel than it is to open a bottle,” he said.

“Then you have to decide how quickly you’re going to go through it or end up dumping some out if you don’t finish it.”

Last month, the Canadian Centre on Substance Use and Addiction released a report funded by Health Canada saying no amount of alcohol is safe and those who consume up to two standard drinks per week face a low health risk.

That’s a significant change from the centre’s 2011 advice that said having 15 drinks per week for men and 10 drinks per week for women was low risk.

Health Canada has said it is reviewing the report.

Charlie Baessler, the managing partner at Corcelettes Estate Winery in the southern Interior, said his winery’s Santé en Cannette sparkling wine in a can was released in 2020 as a reduced alcohol, reduced sugar, low-calorie option.

“We’ve kind of gone above and beyond to attract a bit of a younger, millennial-type market segment with a fun design concept of the can and sparkling, low alcohol — all these things that have been recently a big item on the news,” he said.

Santé en Cannette is a nine per cent wine and reducing the alcohol was a way to reduce its calories, he said. The can also makes it attractive for events like a picnic or golf, is recyclable, and makes it easier for restaurants that might want to offer sparkling wine by the glass without opening an entire bottle.

At the same time, the lower alcohol content makes it an option for people who might want a glass of wine without feeling the same effect that comes from a higher alcohol content, he said.

“So the health is clearly one incentive, but I think more importantly, so was being able to enjoy a locally made product of B.C. from a boutique winery, dare I say, with a mimosa at 11 o’clock and not ruin your day,” he said.

Baessler said the winery has doubled production since the product was first released to about 30,000 cans a year, which they expect to match this year.

He said there’s naturally a market for the product but he doesn’t expect it to compete with the higher-alcohol wine.

“So this isn’t our Holy Grail. This is something that we do for fun and we’ll never compete, or never distract, from what is our core line of riper, higher-alcohol wine,” he said.

Jeff Guignard, executive director of B.C.’s Alliance of Beverage Licensees, which represents bars, pubs and private liquor stores, said the industry has seen a shift in consumers wanting options that are more convenient.

“It’s not a massive change in consumer behaviour but it is a definitely a noticeable one, which is why you see big companies responding to it,” he said.

Guignard said the latest CCSA report is creating an increased awareness and desire to become educated about responsible consumption choices, which is a good thing, but he adds it’s important for people to look at the relative risk of what they’re doing.

“If you’re eating fast food three meals a day, I don’t think having a beer or not is going to be the single most important determinant of your health,” he said.

“But from a consumer perspective, as consumer preferences change, of course beverage manufacturers respond with different packaging or different products, the same way you’ve seen in the last five years, a large number of low-alcohol or no-alcohol beverages being introduced to the market.”

While he won’t predict how much the market share could grow, Guignard said non-alcoholic beverages and low-alcoholic beverages will continue to be a significant piece of the market.

“I don’t know if it’s reached its peak or if it will grow. I just expect it to be part of the market for now on.”

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Feb. 5, 2023.

 

Ashley Joannou, The Canadian Press

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