A group of Okanagan residents spent the first day of their Mexican vacation at the Kelowna International Airport (YLW), instead of the beach.
A sequence of events caused their flight from Kelowna to Puerto Vallarta to be delayed for more than six hours on Friday.
Passengers tell the Kelowna Capital News that half of their bags were sent on a separate flight to Mexico, and that they were kept in the dark for most of the day wondering if they would ever make it to their destination vacation.
“It is beyond ridiculous now. We have no idea when we will leave or if we will leave,” said one passenger, three hours into the delay.
“Something is pretty fishy about the whole story.”
WestJet flight 2164 finally departed YLW at 4:35 p.m., originally scheduled to depart at 10:20 a.m.
According to WestJet, the flight was delayed due to a number of factors including being overweight before takeoff and later, a fuel spill on the tarmac.
“We apologize to our guests from flight 2164 for the frustrating delay they have endured today,” writes Lauren Stewart, WestJet communications.
“This is an unusual situation and we worked as quickly as possible to resolve it.”
Stewart says the flight was initially delayed when the crew determined the plane was too heavy to depart safely due to wet conditions and the length of the runway.
“Out of an abundance of caution a decision was made to lighten the fuel load instead of removing some guests to a later flight,” says Stewart.
While the fuel was being removed from the plane, she says a maintenance issue was discovered and fuel leaked on to the tarmac.
That spill of about 50 gallons of jet fuel prompted an emergency response.
“As is normal with any size of fuel spill at any airport, emergency vehicles were brought on to the scene to help contain the release,” says Stewart, who claims the spill was entirely cleaned up.
“There has been no impact to storm drains and no environmental damage has occurred. With the fuel spill occurring and the cleanup, it did add to the delay.”
YLW Airport Operations senior manager Phillip Elchitz says this is a rare incident and that airport staff did the best they could to assist WestJet passengers during the delay.
“It is not a usual occurrence for a plane to have to de-fuel prior to departure. It doesn't happen very often, we consider it an irregular operation,” says Elchitz.
“The passengers were kept in the boarding lounge and they were well taken care of. WestJet was updating them on the status of the departure.”
Elchitz says while today's incident was rare, it is not unheard off.
“Depending on the runway conditions and other factors, the WestJet operations centre and the captain will do calculations to determine the maximum weight the plane can be to take off,” explains Elchitz.
“Offloading fuel is not something that normally happens and it does take a fair amount of time.”
As for the passengers, they aren't quick to believe WestJet's story. They were told more than 12,000 pounds had to be removed from the plane which doesn't add up to them.
“I think they had a problem from the start and fed us a line all day,” said one passenger who added they were only provided a $15 food voucher at the airport, where options were limited to junk food.
WestJet says that the aircraft did eventually undergo a full maintenance check and depart to Vancouver, where it was set to refuel before carrying on to Puerto Vallarta. The passengers anticipate arriving in Mexico at about 1 a.m.
When asked if the passengers would be compensated for the delay – WestJet stated that that information was confidential.