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Sask. residents stranded in Cuba living in lobbies, waiting for Sunwing to send them to Winnipeg

For six days, Roice Anne Fox has slept only three hours a night while waiting in hotel lobbies in Varadero, Cuba, for a flight to take her family home to Saskatchewan — or at least to Canadian soil.

“I’m exhausted and there is zero help from Sunwing. There are more than 100 of us from Saskatchewan waiting here,” Fox said, referring to the people who came in on the same flight as her.

Fox was supposed to leave for Regina on a Dec. 27 flight, which kept being delayed. On Friday, vacationers were informed that their flight was supposed to depart on New Year’s Eve, but the flight was delayed to Sunday.

Even though they left for their trip from their home province, Fox and others are being flown back to Winnipeg following Sunwing’s decision earlier this week to cancel all flights out of Saskatchewan’s two major cities until Feb. 3 and effective immediately.

The Weyburn pharmacist said the stranded travellers are receiving minimal information from the airlines and have to depend on one another to seek the latest information. They got kicked out of their hotel room on New Year’s Eve because the hotel was fully booked for other guests

“Each of us are looking into different travel websites keeping tabs on this flight. We take turns being awake each night tracking the flight status,” Fox said.

“I’m diagnosed with anxiety and in the last two days, I have had panic attacks every six hours. The uncertainty of whether the flight is coming or not is stressful.”

A man and woman and their two daughters stand at the beach with waves behind them.
Roice Anne Fox is stuck in Cuba with her two kids and her husband. They flew out of Regina Dec. 21, a day later than expected, and were supposed to arrive back in Regina on Dec. 27 but now are hoping to be back before Jan. 2. (Submitted by Roice Anne Fox)

The 31-year-old said during the endless wait, her youngest daughter fell sick to a respiratory illness, which was an added stress. She said other Saskatchewan passengers are missing out on important medications like those for Crohn’s disease. 

“I can’t let my kids enjoy the hotel pool either, because we don’t know that any minute we can be asked to jump into a shuttle to take us to the airport. Please just pick us up,” she said with tears in her eyes.

No arrival details for flight

Their next flight is supposed to depart in the evening on New Year’s Day, but Fox said it can “easily be delayed again.”

“There is no arrival information in Winnipeg today for our flight. Even if they take us there tonight, we’ll have to find our transport to Saskatchewan,” she said.

“If nothing, we will take a WestJet flight but it will be close to $900 for each of us and we are four. There are families with 11 members who can’t afford that. Many saved up through years for these trips and are now stranded.”

A woman and her son in orange life safety vests.
Billie Deschene says the Sunwing ordeal has made her 15-year-old son not want to travel ever again. (Submitted by Billie Deschene)

Billie Deschene, who is stranded there with her 15-year-old son, said she is tired of people on social media saying they should enjoy their extended vacation. 

“This is brutal. The trip was my son’s Christmas present as it was his first time travelling. After all this, he says he doesn’t want to travel ever again and I’m not sure I want to either,” the Regina resident said.

Another source of stress for some stranded travellers whom CBC spoke to is the need to return to Canada so they can get back to work.

In an email statement on Saturday, Sunwing told CBC that they are continuing to work through the backlogged flights to serve the remaining customers as soon as possible.

“We anticipate that most if not all delayed customers should return home by Jan. 2. We have now planned 43 recovery flights, 34 of which were completed as of end of day yesterday, Dec. 30, [2022],” the statement read.

Wedding plan in jeopardy

The cancellation of Sunwing flights out of Saskatchewan isn’t just affecting travellers with present-day plans.

Jilleen Kaal, 31, and Chris Morgan, 35, had booked 78 tickets through Sunwing for their wedding in Punta Mita, Mexico, on Jan. 29.

Kaal said Sunwing did not inform them about the recent decision — they learned about it from news outlets.

“Since most of our guests are from Yorkton and were flying out of Regina or Saskatoon, in the past three days we have been informing all of them of these cancellations,” she said.

Now their guest list has trimmed itself down, as only 47 of the guests booked flights out of Calgary. She said many will have to spend their own money to get there first. 

“Our guests are upset. Saskatoon guests are now looking to book flights to Calgary and it is like $1,600 for two people. They will have to spend hotel stays, on the way there and back, and gas money,” Morgan said.

A man and woman stand next to a staircase with a decorated christmas tree behind them.
Jilleen Kaal, 31, and Chris Morgan, 35, had booked 78 tickets through Sunwing for their wedding in Punta Mita, Mexico, on Jan. 29, but after the airline cancelled all flights out of Saskatoon and Regina until at least Feb. 3., the couple says their wedding is in jeopardy. (Submitted by Jilleen Kaal)

The couple are also worried about ripple effects on other regions.

“If Sunwing cancels our Calgary flights, we’ll be completely out of luck. Our wedding would be completely ruined,” Kaal said.

“Even with the current situation, we feel we will have to have another wedding in Saskatoon for the guests who couldn’t come.”

Kaal said her $9,000 USD wedding service fee will go to waste if other guests drop too. 

“It has been a horrible week and we all were looking forward to it. Sunwing should be responsible for the extra costs our guests have to now bear,” she said.

“They cannot understand the amount of stress. We are worried and weddings shouldn’t be like that.”

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