Monday,  May 23, 2022  8:25 am

Cyber attack behind Sunwing outage; carrier working with other airlines to help travellers


Cyber attack behind Sunwing outage; carrier working with other airlines to help travellers
(Twitter/@SunwingVacay)
Michael Pihach

Michael Pihach is an award-winning journalist with a keen interest in digital storytelling. In addition to PAX, Michael has also written for CBC Life, Ryerson University Magazine, IN Magazine, and DailyXtra.ca. Michael joins PAX after years of working at popular Canadian television shows, such as Steven and Chris, The Goods and The Marilyn Denis Show.

This article was updated on Wednesday, April 20 at 3:29 p.m. EST


The Sunwing saga continues.

The Toronto-based tour operator, which was forced to delay and cancel flights this week after a technical issue caused a network-wide outage, said yesterday (April 19) that its provider’s check-in system was “compromised.”

The data security breach has inconvenienced customers since Sunday, leaving travellers either stranded at their departure airport or at resorts in sun destinations.

Sunwing’s third-party service provider is Airline Choice, and the carrier, on Wednesday, said it is still trying to fix the breach while it processes flights manually.

READ MORE: “We sincerely apologize”: Sunwing processing flights manually as system outage continues

“We are continuing to manually check in all customers until further notice, with 21 planes departing so far today and an additional 13 planned to depart this evening,” Sunwing wrote on its Twitter account last night.

The company noted that it is working with other airlines so it can deploy additional aircraft to relieve the growing backlog in certain destinations.

(Twitter/@SunwingVacay)

By Wednesday afternoon, Sunwing confirmed via Twitter that it has sub-chartered aircraft from WestJet, Air Transat, and Nolinor Aviation to support its flight operations.

"This is not an experience we want"

Impacted passengers have frantically been tagging the airline, asking for help, on Twitter, where Sunwing has compiled most of its communication, and the company has responded to some.

“This is not an experience we want for our travellers,” a Sunwing rep tweeted at a stressed-out traveller named Carolina. “We are working around the clock to get customers checked-in and working with other air carriers on more options.”

Earlier this week, in a travel advisory posted to its website, Sunwing urged customers travelling over the next 12 to 24 hours to check their flight status before heading to the airport.

A departure board at Toronto Pearson shows delayed Sunwing flights. (Twitter/@Nootellahh)

Delays on Monday, for instance, lasted several hours as rolling cancellations moved morning flights to the afternoon while afternoon flights were pushed to the evening.

One passenger Global News spoke with on Tuesday at Toronto Pearson was travelling to Cuba and had their flight delayed by more than 24 hours.

In a statement yesterday, Sunwing said that additional flight delays are to be expected and agents are advised to encourage their customers to sign up for flight alerts on Sunwing.ca for the most up-to-date information.

Compensation claims

Sunwing says that passengers affected by a flight delay of more than three hours will be compensated accordingly.

Affected passengers are invited to visit this website to submit a compensation claim.

Sunwing is also offering affected customers the option to change their departure date once at no cost. This offer applies to bookings with departure dates scheduled between April 19-22, 2022. 

This is valid for travel up to June 23, 2022 and system rates apply for new travel dates, Sunwing says. 

Customers wishing to change the departure date of their flight are being asked to contact their travel agent or the Sunwing sales centre at 1-877-786-9464.

Customers in destination should contact their on-site Sunwing Experiences representative to change their return flight.

"Thank you for your continued patience and understanding as we navigate through these unforeseen circumstances," the company wrote on its website on Tuesday. 

Sunwing President responds

In an interview with CP24 yesterday, Sunwing Airlines President Mark Williams apologized to passengers who have been left stranded, confirming that the outage was the result of a cyber attack on a third-party provider.

“Obviously, this is a terrible situation and one that we didn't expect,” Williams told CP24. “Certainly [we] apologize to everyone for the inconvenience this has caused.

“Our goal is to get people on vacation on time with a new airplane and with great service. And unfortunately, because of a third-party provider having a system outage we have not been able to perform the way we would like to.”

Williams said Sunwing is the only Canadian airline that uses Airline Choice, noting how the third-party provider had “been breached." 

"A system that is up and running all the time, which never fails, was hacked. They had a cyber-breach and they’ve been unable to get the system up,” Williams said.

Authorities in both Canada and the United States are making sure the system is secure before it is reactivated, he said.

In the interview, Williams did not state whether any passenger information had been accessed during the breach.

On Wednesday, Airline Choice, which is based in Illinois, described the breach as a "data security event" that affected a limited number of its computer systems, according to the Canadian Press

"As a precaution, we took certain systems offline to secure our environment. We also immediately launched an investigation to determine the nature and scope of the event,"  the company told CP.


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