AIRPORT–Winair’s flight 807 was grounded in Haiti on Wednesday morning by the Haitian Airport Authority due to outstanding payments owed by PAWA airline.
Winair utilises an MD-80 through an ACMI lease agreement for its flight between Curaçao, Haiti and St. Maarten and has scheduled flights Curaçao-Haiti-St. Maarten-Curaçao on Tuesdays and Curaçao-St. Maarten-Haiti-Curaçao on Saturdays.
Passengers travelled from Curaçao on Tuesday and were scheduled to come to St, Maarten with a stopover in Haiti. They left Curaçao at 10:05am and landed in Haiti at 11:25am. The passengers were told that they would be in transit for half an hour, but the PAWA airplane ended up being grounded.
Seventeen passengers got off the aircraft for Haiti and 42 Dutch-passport citizens were left on board. Some of the passengers were employees of RCN. One of the passengers told The Daily Herald that time slowly crept by and the plane started to get warm. The plane engines were shut down and then security came on board.
It was reported that the pilots of the aircraft locked themselves in the cockpit. After an hour on board the aircraft, they were told they had to leave the airplane. The passengers were then escorted to the airport terminal building.
Another passenger said they had been briefly updated about some of the issues PAWA and Winair were encountering. In the meantime, the plane was towed to another part of the ramp and their luggage was removed. Several passengers had not eaten since 6:00am and up to 3:00pm had not been provided with any food or water or an update on what was going on. The passenger said there were two children and some elderly persons in the group.
Emotions among the passengers started running high at a certain point. Security at the airport tried to keep the passengers in a room with sporadic Internet connections, which hindered their ability to update their family and government.
Sandwiches and water were brought for the stranded passengers at 3:00pm.
Another passenger on the flight stated that while at the airport, airport security was trying to get them back into the room and told them if they did not return to the small room, they (airport security) would be forced to use force.
The passenger said the passengers were hesitant to go into the room, as airport security personnel were locking the door and that was one of the reasons passengers did not want to stay in the small room. The passengers said they felt as though they were under arrest.
Many of the passengers said this was not how anyone in this situation should have been handled and they were being penalised for something that was not their fault.
The passengers were informed at 5:00pm that they would not be leaving Haiti and that they would be transported to a hotel. The passengers left the airport to go to the hotel at 6:10pm and arrived at the hotel at 8:20pm.
The passengers still have no idea when they will be leaving Haiti, as the potential date they were given was Thursday, December 7. They commended the hotel Ron Decameron and said the staff had given them top quality treatment and food, and drinks were free. They continue to make the best out of a very frustrating situation.
It takes passengers more than 14 hours to reach Bonaire from St. Eustatius at times, as they go through different ports before they can get to an island in the Dutch Caribbean.
In a statement on Wednesday, St. Maarten’s national airline Winair said, “Winair sincerely apologizes to her customers for this inconvenience. We will do our utmost to accommodate our passengers the best we can and have them continue their journey as soon as possible. Winair has been mediating vigorously to resolve the issue, but unfortunately had to cancel the flights.”