A formal inquiry will investigate a slew of complaints against Sunwing flights from earlier this month, including a flight that was delayed more than 29 hours.

The Canadian Transportation Agency (CTA) said Wednesday that it has received more than 80 complaints from passengers on 23 different Sunwing flights. The complaints detail lengthy flight delays, misleading communication from Sunwing employees, flight cancellations, and lost and damaged baggage.

The agency said it’s also aware of reports that some Sunwing passengers weren’t served food or drinks while they waited for hours to disembark.

The complaints relate to flights between Saturday, April 14 and Wednesday, April 18. Southern Ontario was hit by an ice storm that weekend, but the icy conditions receded to a light rain by Monday.

The CTA is a federal, independent regulator that, in part, looks into complaints involving air travel in Canada.

In a statement to CTV News, Sunwing said it was made aware of the inquiry on Wednesday morning.

“We share the concerns expressed by our customers and are looking forward to working with the CTA on this inquiry so that all the issues surrounding the flight and baggage delays can be made public and corrective actions can be implemented,” a Sunwing spokesperson said in a statement.

“We recognize that we fell short in providing our usual level of customer service and we are working to improve our contingency planning to ensure that short-staffing on the part of a service provider can never put us in this situation again. We are also tightening up our internal operations, scheduling and communications around extreme weather events. We would like to reiterate our sincere apology to all customers affected.”

‘Terribly disorganized’

CTVNews.ca has spoken with four passengers on flight WG 514, from Cancun to Toronto, which was delayed 29 hours between Monday, April 16 and Tuesday, April 17. Three of those passengers filed complaints to the CTA detailing their experiences.

Sunwing previously apologized for the delay and said a “domino effect of delays” from the ice storm impacted flights to and from Toronto. The airline said it would offer partial refunds to affected passengers.

All four passengers who spoke to CTV News confirmed that they received refunds of $300. They all say that’s not enough.

Rami Abusafeyeh, who spent a week in Mexico with his wife and three children, called the refund “a joke.”

“When you’re abroad and you’re in a foreign country and you’re paying for a service, you expect that at some point somebody is going to take care of you. That’s the service we paid for, to be taken care of. And we didn’t get that,” Abusafeyeh said.

Abusafeyeh and his family arrived at the Cancun airport at 7 a.m. Monday morning to give themselves ample time for their 9 a.m. flight. They waited for 18 hours, until 1 a.m. Tuesday, when Sunwing offered them a hotel room for the night.

All the while, passengers say, Sunwing crew kept insisting that a flight was on the way. Around 11 p.m., a Sunwing plane landed and passengers were ready to board.

However, Sunwing said that by the time the incoming flight landed, the crew had “exceeded duty time” and the flight needed to be delayed until the next day.

“At this point, customers were then transferred to all-inclusive hotels where they stayed until approximately noon before being transferred back to the airport for their afternoon flight,” a Sunwing spokesperson said following the incident.

In Europe, laws exist that force airlines to compensate travellers who face delays of three hours or more, unless the delay was caused by extraordinary circumstances. For example, for a three-hour flight delay from London to Sydney, Australia, a passenger would be reimbursed 600 euros, or $938.

Passenger Kimmy Nguyen, who filed a complaint to the CTA, said she hopes Canadian lawmakers will consider similar rules. She also hopes passengers receive a full refund.

“I'm glad that the CTA is doing an investigation so that Sunwing will be held accountable for the delays,” she said.

Judy Wu filed a complaint with her friend, Shelby Zhng, saying that the $300 compensation wasn’t enough. She asked for $489.58 -- a number that was calculated based on the amount of time spent in the airport.

Wu blamed “terribly disorganized” Sunwing staff for poorly managing the angry passengers. She said a “riot” broke out after passengers were informed that the plane that arrived late Monday didn’t have the crew to bring them back to Toronto.

Video of the confrontation shows frustrated passengers crowding around a Sunwing desk and shouting at a Sunwing employee. Some ask why passengers weren’t sent to the hotel earlier.

Even after the planeload of people left the airport en route to a hotel, Wu said it took until 4:30 a.m. for her to get her room key.

Wu said she’s glad that the CTA is probing the complaints, but that it’s “sad that Sunwing can’t address this themselves.”

When the plane finally landed in Toronto, Wu said she was relieved.

“I had never been so happy to see snow.”

‘It was disgusting’

Sharon De Silva, a freelance hair stylist with CTV News, and her husband, Paul De Silva, said they were on a Sunwing plane stuck on a tarmac at Toronto Pearson International Airport for six hours.

The couple was coming home from their wedding in Aruba, said it took two hours before flight attendants offered passengers any water. They said they were never offered food.

“They kept lying to us and first they said there were no gates available, then they said there were no stairs, then they said that they were waiting for buses,” Sharon told CTV News Channel.

“The toilet starting backing up and there were exhaust fumes in the air. It was disgusting.”

During the hours-long wait, the couple said flight attendants offered little information.

“I felt like they were being very silent about it. The word they kept using was we would have a gate in “just moments,” but those moments would be a two-hour gap,” Paul said.

They say paramedics were eventually called when a passenger on the flight began suffering from heart palpitations.

“If it wasn’t for them having those panic attacks, maybe we would’ve been on there another seven or eight or who knows, 10 hours,” Paul said.

Many passengers were still in their flip flops and shorts when they were led down a set of stairs to the tarmac, which Paul said was covered in “freezing slush water.”

The couple said it took a week for them to get their bags back. They say one member of their wedding party is still waiting for their belongings.

The frustrating situation has cast a pall over the big day, Paul said.

“I hate to say it -- the last memory of our wedding is kind of horrific.”

They both agree that they’ll never fly with Sunwing again, and want the company to issue full refunds to those affected.

The CTA inquiry will conduct interviews, obtain records and accept written statements from passengers and other parties involved in the incident. The inquiry officer leading the case will then submit a summary report to the agency.

The agency said its inquiry was launched because preliminary information suggests that “systemic issues” may have impacted the flights. As well, the agency determined that it was the most efficient way to deal with the large number of complaints.