By Colin Perkel, The Canadian Press
TORONTO — A replacement aircraft for a grounded Sunwing Airlines Boeing 737 Max was forced to make an emergency landing in New Orleans on the weekend, sparking anger among passengers who complained they were stranded for hours.
In a statement on Sunday, the charter airline confirmed the Boeing 767-300 en route from Toronto to Cancun, Mexico, was diverted on Saturday due to an unspecified “mechanical issue.”
However, Sunwing normally has no connection to the New Orleans airport, creating logistical issues for the 239 people aboard, the company said.
“We didn’t have our staff on the ground to support communications,” the company said in a statement. “Because of the unplanned nature of the landing, the airport was very busy and it took many hours to find a secured area for our customers to deplane to.”
Passengers aboard Flight WG511 took to social media to vent their frustrations at being stranded aboard the aircraft for hours, then for several more hours in a holding room at the airport.
One passenger, Marcelo Gomez-Wiuckstern, a vice president with Canada Lands Company, tweeted that passengers had been “locked in” the airport basement for more than seven hours without any information.
“No one from the crew is to be seen,” Gomez Wiuckstern said. “The call centre says, ‘We are working on it, keep waiting’.”
“Stuck at New Orleans in a basement which feels like a detention centre with no idea what is happenings,” tweeted another passenger, Robert Liu.
Sunwing said it had leased the Boeing 767 from Eastern Airlines to help maintain its flying schedule after regulatory authorities recently grounded the 737 Max.
The grounding followed deadly crashes off Indonesia and in Ethiopia killed 346 people. Suspicion has fallen on an automated system designed to prevent the aircraft from stalling by pitching the nose of the plane down.
Sunwing said it provided its stranded passengers with water service, snacks and pizza while it sought to replace have Eastern replace the aircraft. That ultimately happened Saturday night with a plane sent from Miami. Everyone was then flown to Cancun, the agency said.
“We are very apologetic for this unfortunate start to their vacation and have compensated accordingly,” Sunwing said.
Sunwing Airlines bills itself as an award-winning leisure carrier that flies out of 33 airports across Canada and the U.S. using more than 40 Boeing 737-800 and the now-grounded Boeing 737 Max 8 aircraft. It mainly flies to vacation destinations across the Caribbean, Mexico, Central America and Florida.