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Winnipeg-bound passengers given mats, left to sleep on floor at Toronto Pearson airport

After several flight delays, passengers flying out of Toronto’s Pearson airport were given mats and left to sleep on the floor when their flights to Winnipeg were eventually cancelled — and many said the airline didn’t offer proper accommodations at all.

Fatima Sherefa, 17, was flying back from a trip to Ann Arbor, Mich. She was told her 3 p.m. connecting flight in Toronto was delayed. 

“We’re standing around the agents asking, you know, what’s happening,” she said. “They say the flight’s been rescheduled, like … ‘Stay calm, you’re going to board the plane.'” 

Sherefa said she was getting anxious as the night went on and she wondered how she was going to explain the delay to her parents — who said they stayed awake all night waiting for news on when she would be arriving back home.

“I wish more support had been provided to ease concerns that I, especially, would have had as a minor. But that didn’t happen either.”

Sherafa holds up the small yoga mat she was given to sleep on for the night at Toronto’s Pearson airport after her flight to Winnipeg was cancelled. (Kevin Nepitabo/CBC)

Sherefa said when the flight was cancelled just after midnight, into Sunday morning, airport staff told passengers they couldn’t offer hotel accommodation or compensation.

She said she wasn’t offered food vouchers throughout the day, either. Instead, passengers were given small yoga mats to sleep on and told to go to the Air Canada website for more information. 

“We need actual help to stay the night. Like, what are we going to do? No vouchers, no hotel, no nothing … basically just leaving us stranded,” she said.

Sherefa ended up sleeping in a women’s nursing room, which she was able to lock. 

“It was super cramped,” she said, “but it was better than nothing at that point.”

Bryce Kuharski had a different flight to Winnipeg from Toronto at 7 p.m. He said his flight was delayed several times.

“Any time we would ask them, they would just simply say, ‘Well, we can’t check the plane out because of safety issues.’ But they wouldn’t elaborate,” he said. 

Kuharski said after two flight changes, he boarded a third plane for about half an hour but passengers were told there was a safety issue and they would have to board a different plane.

The new plane never arrived and his flight was finally cancelled. 

Air Canada “claimed no hotels were available,” he said.

By that time, it was too late to consider going anywhere anyway, he said.

“In order to leave the airport, get to your hotel, settle in, sleep … leave, pack up, come back [and] go through security, there’s no way you’re getting any meaningful amount of sleep,” he said.

CBC News requested comment from Air Canada about all of the cancellations but only received an emailed statement from the airline about one of the flights, which was scheduled to depart Toronto at 6 p.m.

The company said it was initially delayed due to a mechanical issue with the aircraft and rescheduled a few times in expectation the repairs could be completed. When that was not possible, a second aircraft was brought in, which, unfortunately, also developed issues. By the time the flight was cancelled, there were no available hotel rooms. 

Air Canada said it will follow up directly with affected customers as required.

Passengers given yoga mats, not hotels

Julie Yumin slept on a restaurant bench at the airport after her 7 p.m. flight to Winnipeg was cancelled.

Like Kuharski, she said she was frustrated because Air Canada kept delaying the flight every 30 minutes and by the time the flight was officially cancelled, she was basically stranded.

“We called five or six hotels, and they were all sold out,” she said. 

She said it wasn’t until she inquired about getting beds that Air Canada finally provided around 10 yoga mats to passengers. 

“Everybody was just on the floor,” she said.

Bryce Kuharski said his flight from Toronto to Winnipeg was delayed several times before ultimately being cancelled just after midnight on Sunday morning. (Fern Detillieux/Radio Canada)

Kuharski said he also witnessed egregious behaviour by Air Canada staff at the terminal. He said once food vouchers were handed out, he witnessed a woman who was using a wheelchair ask Air Canada staff if they could help her use her food voucher.

“The gate staff said, ‘You’ll have to get yourself there. I can’t help you,'” he said. “Thankfully, one of the other guests right near her offered to move her right away.” 

Passenger Julie Yumin said she and some other passengers were able to sleep in restaurant booths. But most passengers had to sleep on the airport’s floor. (Submitted by Julie Yumin)

Passengers from the delayed Toronto flights began arriving in Winnipeg mid-morning on Sunday. 

Sherefa said the experience left her feeling numb. She’s going to try to get compensation, but said Air Canada never offered compensation for the flight cancellation or delay. 

“I kind of don’t want to think too much about it, but at the same time, I wouldn’t want anyone else to go through this,” she said.

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