A Central Alberta family finally celebrated Christmas at home on Thursday after being stranded for six days in Mexico.
The ordeal experienced by Carol and Ben Crick and their two young children included being up at all hours, waiting for flights that never transpired, being bused between resorts, sleeping on the floor of a hotel lobby on Christmas Eve, and having to pay $5,000 for home-bound WestJet tickets.
Carol Crick said she and her family were relieved to finally arrive in Calgary late on Wednesday night. Their kids got to open their presents and celebrate Christmas with their Alberta relatives four days late.
The Wetaskiwin family had flown to Mexico for a fun family holiday on Dec. 8. The Cricks were supposed to return to Alberta a few days before Christmas, on Dec. 22 — only they became stranded, like hundreds of other tourists, after their Sunwing Vacations return flight was cancelled.
No official email was received from Sunwing and no reasons were given, said Carol, who only heard through the grapevine it was because of bad weather back home and insufficient staffing.
Carol noted the family’s last six days in Mexico were hardly spent poolside, sipping margaritas.
Each day, the same “brutal” scenario was re-enacted again: Carol said she and her husband Ben would pack up their bags because they had to check out of their resort room by noon with their seven-year-old daughter and five-year-old son — only to find out their flight home was cancelled.
This news was always received last minute. Carol recalled one time the family was about to get onto a bus to the airport when they heard in the nick of time their plane would not be taking off that day.
“We were so lucky,” to not have boarded the bus, she said, after later seeing “grown men crying” at the airport in Mexico, where returning vacationers were left for days without adequate food or accommodation. “I would have been livid…”
But, as it was, Carol and Ben had to spend seven-to-eight hours a day “advocating” through a Sunwing representative, to try to line up another room for their children to sleep in for that night.
“We were stressed out every day,” said Carol, who notes guests were still arriving at the resort from Spain and other destinations, so rooms were at a premium.
At one point, the Cricks were bused half an hour to another resort where a room was supposed to be waiting for them — only to discover the front desk did not have their names on the register.
The whole family ended up spending the night before Christmas sleeping on the floor of the lobby.
On top of everything, Carol, who has Crohn’s Disease, felt unwell most of this time because she hadn’t brought enough extra doses of medication.
While she credits the resorts for doing their best to accommodate stranded guests— people were allowed to place their bags in a secured area and to eat meals at resort restaurants — Carol blames Sunwing for failing to inform anyone about what was going on.
“It wasn’t just poor communication, there was no communication,” she said, with company representatives totally out of the loop and taking on more duties than they were supposed to.
Len Corrado, president of Sunwing Airlines, put out a statement on Wednesday, apologizing for flight delays due to “unprecedented operational challenges” and the resulting customer frustration.
“Our teams locally and in destination continue to proactively work through the backlog of flights in order to return our customers home as soon as possible,” stated Corrado.
“We have 40 recovery flights planned for this week thus far… Please know that we continue to work around the clock to overcome operational challenges and return our remaining delayed customers home in the next few days.”
The Cricks eventually gave up on Sunwing, even though they had paid $8,800 for a two-week vacation and airfares. They ended up booking new flights home through WestJet for nearly $5,00o extra.
After all of the disappointments, Carol recalled her five-year-old son could not believe they would actually be returning to their house in Alberta. “He kept saying, ‘No, we’re not flying home, mom…’”
The closest airport they could book a flight to was Calgary, which meant the family faced a long drive home with a relative who drove for six-hours, round-trip, to pick them up.
Carol doesn’t yet know whether the family will get reimbursed from Sunwing for their cancelled flights, or compensated for their six-day ordeal, including lost wages.
The Alberta woman feels it’s too soon to say whether this kind of resort holiday will be in their future plans.