Passengers on board an Air Canada flight from Antigua to Toronto are demanding answers after a series of mishaps – including a “terrifying” aborted take-off and an emergency landing – left some wondering if they would finish the trip alive.
The emergency landing was blamed on faulty fuel distribution, similar to a problem the crew addressed before they left Antigua.
Passengers question whether the Airbus A319 should have taken off at all on June 3 after its earlier troubles.
“It was the absolute worst and most terrifying flight experience I’ve ever had,” said Dan Fuller, 33, a Toronto-based Internet entrepreneur. “There were too many incidents that were occurring back to back to back to think everything was done by the book.”
But Air Canada says the aborted take-off, while rare, was at the relatively low speed of 80 knots – and well within safety parameters – and the plane had no known safety issues when it eventually left the Caribbean island.
He slammed on the brakes. It was terrifying
Though it had no staff on the ground in Puerto Rico, the airline arranged hotels and meals there for passengers before flying them to Toronto the next day, noted spokesman Peter Fitzpatrick.
“Still, this was an understandably disappointing experience for our customers,” he said. “Our crews are trained to behave professionally and operate safely at all times and they did follow safety protocols. We are sorry about this experience … We have offered significant compensation.”
Fuller said he was promised a debriefing with an Air Canada customer-service representative and also emailed an array of company executives asking for a full explanation of the flight’s troubles, but has yet to hear from any of them.
He said he’s been offered a $500 credit on future travel.
According to passengers, Flight 961 was meant to leave about 2:30 p.m. from Antigua’s V.C. Bird International Airport but a series of delays ensued, starting with a malfunctioning toilet. As the Airbus finally taxied toward the runway, it was ordered back by air-traffic controllers because of a storm in the area.
Given the go-ahead later, the jet was hurtling down the runway when the take-off was suddenly aborted, smoke billowing from the landing gear.
“He slammed on the brakes. It was terrifying,” said Fuller, who had been on vacation with his wife. “A lot of us felt this would be the end for us.”
Fitzpatrick said the incident – at a low enough speed it did not need to be reported to the safety board – stemmed from a “flight computer setting.”
If you were on an aircraft with another carrier or you had a less experienced flight crew, you might not be alive today
Both Fuller and fellow passenger Stella Mercuri, a Montreal-based medical secretary also on holiday, said the captain announced that he had made an error himself with the computer.
The passengers next heard about a problem with the distribution of the fuel on the plane, but about four hours after the scheduled departure time, 961 took off successfully.
Just over an hour into the flight, the pilot announced the emergency landing in Puerto Rico.
“Everybody panicked,” said Mercuri. “We were all pretty much freaking out … I just felt that all this would have been avoided if they had just stayed in Antigua.”
Though the Transportation Safety Board is not investigating the incident, it issued a report saying the crew decided to land after noticing the engines were only getting fuel from the left and centre tanks, not the right, creating an imbalance.
Fuller said he challenged the captain the next day as they were about to board the replacement flight, with a different crew. Citing his 30 years of cockpit experience, the pilot said things could have ended much differently, the passenger recalled.
“He said ‘If you were on an aircraft with another carrier or you had a less experienced flight crew, you might not be alive today.’ ”