Air Canada passengers forced to sleep in Azerbaijan airport after emergency landing

Passengers say they weren’t even initially told what country they were landing in and what was supposed to be a 15-minute delay turned into 27 hours

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A Canadian family travelling from Toronto to India says Air Canada staff abandoned them when their plane was forced to make an emergency landing in Azerbaijan and they were stranded for more than 27 hours.

Passengers were not even initially told what country they would be landing in, said Jagdeep Kailey, a Toronto man who spoke on behalf of his four family members — his father, nephew and two nieces — who were travelling with a family friend on the Oct. 21 flight that landed at Heydar Aliyev International Airport near Baku.

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“They did not inform no passenger, they did not make any announcement, they just said that we are going to be landing for about 15 minutes, we will keep sitting and we will fly back. And they did not tell (them) which country they are going to be landing (in),” Kailey said. “This total disregard for the right of passengers to have rightful information is a great negligence.”

Other people from the same flight shared their frustrations on social media.

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“There was no accountability on the part of (Air Canada). Some people like me boarded the next flight @IndiGo6E to Delhi. Some figured their way out of the airport to hotels. Others were dispersed all over the airport to find comfortable spots to lay down,” Gurmeet Kaur wrote on X, formerly known as Twitter. She added that the Air Canada crew made “no efforts to help.”

Sumanpreet Jatana said Air Canada was unable to provide visas and hotel accommodations.

“Horrible experience to land (at an) unknown airport with no information and no food, no place to go and sleep. Passengers had kids and mostly people were elderly, sitting on uncomfortable chairs, floor,” Jatana wrote on X.

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Air Canada told National Post in a statement that “the pilots received an oil pressure indication from one engine and decided to divert the aircraft as a precautionary measure.”

The pilots declared an emergency in order to receive permission to land in Baku.

Air Canada said that while it does not operate out of Baku, it immediately arranged ground and aircraft support, as well as food service and hotel accommodations.

Kailey said, in reality, this support was far from adequate. Even getting off the plane was a struggle. Kailey said passengers had to climb down a staircase that was attached to the plane and wheelchairs were not provided for people who needed them, like his 76-year-old father, who has had both his knees replaced and was helped by members of his family.

Food only arrived after about 12 hours and consisted of a 500 ml bottle of water, coffee and a sandwich, which some passengers could not eat due to dietary restrictions, he said.

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Passengers who wanted to take advantage of hotel accommodations provided by Air Canada required temporary visas to leave the airport, and the airline said it worked with local authorities to arrange them.

“Not all passengers went to the hotel, however, as some elected to wait at the airport and others could not obtain visas,” Air Canada said.

However, Kailey said Air Canada staff offered little support and abandoned passengers at the airport about three-and-a-half hours after they got off the plane.

Jagdeep said the flight landed at the airport around 4 p.m., his family was off the plane by about 6 p.m., and they were in the immigration office to obtain a visa around 12:30 a.m. They were told by a Baku airport officer that they would have to apply online and wait three hours to get visas. The airport officer told them that it was Air Canada staff’s responsibility to work with Baku’s authorities to make sure passengers could obtain visas and hotels. However, the Air Canada staff left the airport at 9:30 p.m. without providing any information, Kailey said, despite initially promising to take care of passengers.

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“One of them said … you will stay wherever we go, we know this is an emergency and we are not going to abandon you, but within minutes after, the staff went away from the airport and 300 people kept sitting there,” he said.

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His family had to pass through security to return to the waiting area and arrived there at 2:30 a.m. The family realized that even if they could obtain a visa and make it to the hotel, they would likely get less than four hours sleep because they would have to return for a rescheduled flight that afternoon.

They decided it was not worth it to leave the airport after such a delay in the process. Kailey estimated that more than 250 other passengers were not able to obtain a visa due to a lack of support from Air Canada staff, who initially failed to tell them about the online application. Some elderly people had language barriers and little to no knowledge of how to use a cell phone to complete the online application, Kailey said.

While Baku airport staff made an effort to help, Kailey said they could not speak any of the Indian languages spoken by many of the passengers who were in their 70s. Since the Air Canada staff had left the airport, Kailey said his family helped the seniors.

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Kailey said his father, Krishna Chaitanya, did not sleep during the more than 27 hours they were stranded in the airport as he was helping people.

“I think the most disturbing factor was that there was no support available, there was not even a semblance of support. We expected that an airline of Air Canada’s size and professional integrity would have protocols put in place,” Kailey said. “If a ship sinks, the captain … stays with the ship he does not just jump the ship.”

Passengers were forced to sleep on the floor of the airport, including children and seniors, some of whom had poor health, Kailey said.

“There was no pharmacy, there was young children, mothers needed sanitary pads. It is not to blame Air Canada for not having a pharmacy on the airport; the point is that they could have helped these families by getting certain supplies to them,” Kailey said.

Passengers received breakfast at 9:45 a.m. in Baku, but were not fed another meal after that. They were packed onto the plane around 4 p.m., but did not take off for another three hours, Kailey said.

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Even after they left Baku, Air Canada failed to provide adequate food for passengers on the flight to Delhi, Kailey said. They received only cold, light snacks — a piece of cake, a few almonds and crackers. But the staff had no idea if the cake contained eggs, which Kailey’s family cannot eat.

The passengers finally arrived in Delhi after midnight local time on Oct. 23.

“We appreciate this was inconvenient for the customers and will be providing a compensatory goodwill gesture. However, safety is always our top priority,” Air Canada said.

Kailey said passengers were offered an $800 credit that can be used for their next Air Canada flight, but his family doesn’t want to travel with Air Canada again due to the mental and physical turmoil they experienced. He said he was shocked by the airline’s unwillingness to do more for its customers.

“Over 300 passengers were inconvenienced,” Kailey said. “We assume that Air Canada thinks it can get away with its discriminatory handling of its affairs because Canadian citizens of Indian origin are not deemed worthy of the treatment Canadians deserve.”

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