A wedding party had their suitcases ransacked. They want Sunwing to take responsibility

Lisa and Dave Parsons were in Jamaica for their son’s destination wedding, a week-long dream vacation that was picture perfect — until they unpacked their bags.

Travelling with 40 wedding guests from Ocho Rios, Jamaica, to Lindsay, Ont., on Monday, the couple says that nearly half the group had expensive gadgets, fragrances and clothing stolen from their suitcases, and that the lining of their baggage was left in tatters.

“We normally would leave our valuables at home, but it was a wedding, so we were dressing up,” Lisa told CBC News in an interview.

The entire trip was booked through Sunwing Airlines, a discount carrier headquartered in Toronto and owned by WestJet. Now, the couple — and their guests — want the airline to take responsibility.

“It was not about the money,” Lisa said. “It’s more about the fact that now there’s this dark cloud when we all were on a high note.”

WATCH | How these Sunwing passengers tracked down stolen valuables: 

Sunwing passengers say valuables were stolen from checked bags

A group of Sunwing passengers allege thousands of dollars worth of electronics, watches and perfumes were stolen from their checked baggage in Jamaica and they want the airline to take responsibility.

On the final day of their trip, the group gathered in the lobby of the Hotel Riu Ocho Rios, loaded their bags onto a bus and drove two hours to Sangster International Airport in Montego Bay. Once they arrived, they stood with their baggage in the Sunwing line for a while before they checked it, still with three and a half hours until takeoff. 

They went through security, boarded their flight and flew back to Toronto, where they were bused to the main terminal without incident. They grabbed their luggage at the carousel and arrived home at about 11 p.m.

But some of the travellers had a nasty surprise waiting for them the next morning: A text from a member of the group who found several watches missing from his bag as he unpacked.

The rest of the group quickly took inventory. 

“We have a big group chat that we had going while we were on the trip,” said Bryan Williams, a close friend of the groom who had a $200 cologne bottle, some dress shirts and pants stolen. “And everybody was like, yeah, I’m missing this, missing that. We realized that there was more than just one or two of us were missing some things.”

The Parsons were missing a $550 Belova watch, two sets of $300 airpods, and one cord for a Mac laptop valued at $120. Others were missing expensive perfume, cologne and clothing, and about half of the group had their luggage tampered with — the lining shredded and the locks cut.

Whose responsibility is it?

The Parsons were able to confirm that the theft hadn’t happened at Toronto Pearson Airport after using their phones to track the location of their stolen airbuds. 

A screenshot of the iPhone map shows a tracked pair of airpods with a time and location stamp.
A screenshot shows Lisa Parson’s airpods tracked to a street in Montego Bay, Jamaica, almost 3,000 kilometres away from her home. (Submitted by Lisa Parsons)

“We were all brainstorming on what had gone on and realized that we were all compromised at the [Montego Bay] airport, because that’s the only time our luggage was unattended,” said Lisa.

While Dave’s airpods were found on another part of the island, “mine are on Providence Street in Montego Bay,” Lisa explained. “It shows you exactly where it is, and it’s 2,861 miles away. So they’re in Jamaica.”

A spokesperson for the Montego Bay Airport Authority told CBC News that the airline is responsible for stolen luggage items or missing baggage, and that theft does not occur frequently at the airport. The statement also noted that the baggage handlers at Sangster International Airport are employed by individual airlines.

“Sunwing is who we paid our money to, so I feel they’re the ones that need to step up to the plate,” said Lisa. The group filed a complaint with the airline, but didn’t hear back for several days.

CBC News reached out to a representative for Sunwing, who confirmed their receipt of the inquiry but did not provide a response. 

One of the travellers later received a call from the Sunwing Corporate office. A representative said that the Montego Bay police had launched an investigation into the thefts. CBC News reached out to local law enforcement in Jamaica and did not receive a response.

Bags ‘at the mercy’ of whoever wants to access them

A man and a woman sit at a table in their home.
Dave and Lisa Parsons and other members of the wedding party want the airline to take responsibility for their stolen valuables. (CBC)

Dave Parsons said the group is waiting to see to what extent they’ll be compensated by Sunwing before filing a claim with their insurance company. The couple is sharing their experience as a warning to other travellers.

“Make sure that you keep your valuables close to you,” he said. “And your bags, your main bags are at the mercy of whoever wants to, I guess, access them.”

Kristine D’Arbelles, senior director of public affairs with CAA National, said the rules are quite clear about who is responsible for stolen luggage or valuables.

“Once you hand that bag over to the airline, it is in the airline’s care, so it needs to come back to you in one piece with everything in it,” she told CBC News. “So if it does come back damaged with items lost or stolen, [then] you make a claim with the airline.”

Travellers are pictured at Pearson International Airport, in Toronto, on Dec. 22, 2022 — one of the busiest travel days of the holiday season.
Travellers are pictured at Toronto Pearson International Airport. ‘Once you hand that bag over to the airline, it is in the airline’s care, so it needs to come back to you in one piece with everything in it,’ Kristine D’Arbelles, senior director of public affairs with CAA National, told CBC News. (Evan Mitsui/CBC)

She said that travellers who’ve had items stolen are protected by the Air Passenger Protection Regulations (APPR) in two ways. 

These passengers can claim up to $2,300 in compensation for delayed or damaged luggage, or they can claim items that were stolen from their luggage. Travellers have to make a claim directly through the airline. 

“This is not the first time that someone is reporting on a lost or stolen or damaged bag,” D’Arbelles said. But there’s little public available data to indicate how often it happens, she added.

Only the Canadian Transportation Agency keeps track of complaints it receives, but many of those claims are a last resort. They are typically filed after travellers have exhausted previous options and weren’t happy with the result.

LISTEN | Can baggage-tracking features give passengers peace of mind? 

Columnists from CBC Radio3:48Airlines are getting into the bag tracking game

There’s a reason so many people now try to bring everything in a carry-on when they fly. There are fees for checked bags, but also concerns that a bag might get lost. Airlines are now trying to give people more peace of mind on that front. CBC’s Jason Osler explores whether new baggage tracking features will help.

While travellers should avoid checking anything of value, that can’t always be avoided, D’Arbelles said. In that case, you can be prepared in other ways: Make a list of items you’re travelling with, take photos of your valuables and keep all receipts — from your luggage tag to your boarding pass.

“We’re still in the early days of these regulations. So not a lot of people know that it’s there,” she said of the APPR. 

“And obviously, when these things happen, stress is high. You’re worried. Sometimes we don’t stop to think, ‘is there actually something that is protecting me?'”

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