A Penticton man is stuck waiting for his kids to come back home after they were denied boarding a Swoop airline flight last week, claiming the airline wouldn’t accept their emergency passports.
Myles Barron and his family headed to Mexico on an emergency trip in December and used their Mexican passports to enter the country. As dual citizens, the family had an easier time entering the country as residents.
“So the rules are changing constantly to leave Canada, so they left [using] their Mexican passports because we didn't have enough time to line up the Canadian ones,” he said.
The kids can’t use their Mexican passports to fly back to Canada as dual citizens, which meant the family was going to have to get the kids' Canadian passports in order.
Since the processing time was too long to get the standard passports from the Canadian consulate, Barron said the family opted to get emergency Canadian passports for the kids this time for their journey home.
He added that the prerequisites for getting the emergency passports were the same as their standard passports, but the processing time was faster and the passports only lasted one day.
The family was staying in La Paz, in the Baja California Sur state and had to drive into Cabo San Lucas to get everything in order.
Barron said when they arrived at the gate to check in, the airline check-in agents started having problems with his two kids' passports.
“Basically, she didn't know what she was looking at when she was looking at the emergency passports,” he said, adding that he was also asked to provide additional identification for the kids, which he provided in the form of their birth certificates.
“We were there over an hour waiting for her to get it sorted out, being patient. Then another agent just took over and he just wasn't making any progress. He couldn't do anything. And then he called for the supervisor.”
As time went by, the family was starting to get nervous about missing their flight. Barron said he was told by the Swoop staff they had contacted the head office for help and were left waiting.
Barron said an error had seemed to occur within the system for the kids' passport status.
“They just basically said, 'No, we can't issue you the boarding passes and that's it. So you're gonna miss your flight,’” he said. “This airline is different. They're operating on a different set of rules.”
Barron claimed the Swoop floor supervisor even had a conversation with the consulate agent in which the supervisor was informed that the documents were authentic and that immigration in Canada would be notified of the situation.
"We were only informed that the Swoop agents could not input the correct information in the system to issue to boarding passes. We were not informed that the documents could not be validated nor was my wife given any official reason why the children could not board the flight in the end when they were told they could not fly."
Stuck in a back-and-forth conversation between the Canadian consulate and the Swoop staff with no indication of the kids being let through, the family decided Barron would fly home and his wife and her brother would stay behind with their two children.
“My point was that they had official documentation, we met all the conditions to fly and they have a right as Canadian citizens with the proper documentation to return to their country of residence, and yet it was completely undermined.”
Barron said he has had no other issues before when the kids had to use an emergency passport to fly. His wife called other airlines as well, to confirm the passports were usable, and was told they accept them with “no problem.”
“Just because this airline is economical doesn’t give them the right to take away the rights of our two small children to return to their country and split up our family, when we had all the correct documentation in order to travel."
At the very least, Barron said he wanted to be given an official reason as to why they would not let the kids fly, feeling left in the dark on the passport issues.
“It was kind of frustrating because it was a big cost to me. We've travelled a lot, back and forth and never really had any issues,” he added.
“This was the first time we’re flying with this airline and with the questions and comments [the check-in agent] was making, she just didn't understand the documents whatsoever.”
Castanet reached out to Swoop for a comment on what occurred with the Barron family. The airline confirmed that two travellers were denied boarding the flight "due to an error in validation that occurred regarding the traveller’s identification documents."
"Travellers’ identification documents are verified through a government regulatory system upon check-in at the airport and in this instance, the travellers’ emergency travel document was flagged and required secondary verification. When a travel document is flagged, Swoop agents consult with Canada Border Systems Agency (CBSA) and require approval from CBSA to permit the traveller(s) to board and in this case, the CBSA team indicated they could not validate the documents that had been provided," the airline said in an emailed statement.
The entire situation has frustrated and exhausted the family. Barron said he plans to file a formal complaint with the airline, but for now, is focused on getting his family home.
Swoop acknowledged the issues after Castanet contacted the airline.
"We are in the process of contacting the travellers to provide a refund to their original form of payment and sincerely apologize for any inconvenience this has caused," they said.
Barron responded to the statement and said that during the entire process, none of the information in Swoop’s statement was relayed to his family.
"We appreciate the effort on the part of Swoop in their statement mentioning that they would refund the travellers. However, we are asking that a refund be issued for the travellers that were affected and could not fly as a result. The two reservations for our family members were all made and paid for by myself. Also, we are asking that a refund be issued for the lost expense of three checked bags that were also paid for and not utilized."
The issues have left Barron’s family members stuck in Mexico.
“My little boy, he's in preschool and my little girl, she's in kindergarten. And so we were down there for a month so they already missed two weeks of school. Now they're going to be missing more school.”
Worried about trying to use the emergency passports for a second time, the family decided it was best to now apply for their full ones. Marron said he was told they could be issued faster than before, estimating three weeks after all the paperwork is filed.
Luckily, the family has relatives in Mexico to stay with in the meantime, but the separation isn’t easy on the children.
“My little boy, he just can't figure out why I'm here, back at the house…For a few nights there, he was just crying that I wasn't there with him. And being at the airport was the saddest thing when I was trying to explain to my daughter that I'm gonna have to fly by myself and you're gonna have to stay.”
Barron said they are exploring return flights now with other airlines.
“As soon as I get my duplex rented I am leaving to be with them. We will come back together.”