I felt the goop while flying Swoop

It’s the airline for parents who want to spoil their kids (but not with nice stuff)… and people who don’t want to arrive on time

I had to sit in someone’s vomit for 15 minutes on my Swoop flight. How’s that for an opening line?

Like most people who find airline travel a frustrating experience thanks to crammed-in planes, countless fees and unreasonable delays, I was excited when I heard that respected Canadian airline, WestJet, would launch a discount carrier. As I quickly learned after my experience with Swoop, whose current Better Business Bureau rating is a stellar D+, when you cut the cost, you lose a lot; but you leave with one helluva story… and ruined shoes to prove it.

Last week I headed ‎to Fort Lauderdale, Fla. For our syndicated radio shoes… er, shows (I’m not over my ruined shoes just yet) we broadcast travel and tourism programming from hotspot destinations. We work with tourism boards to showcase what visitors can do while in the area. Coincidentally, Swoop announced service from Winnipeg to FTL so we decided to give it a shot — having never flown a “cheapie” airline before. Admittedly, after getting screwed over by Flair Airlines last year, I was leery about dealing with another bargain-basement carrier. Should I have been worried? There were some red flags… and orange chunks… and a bit of yellowish bile.

A week before departure, I was at a family birthday party. My brother and his wife arrived late and she was furious. “Swoop just moved up our Vegas trip and now we probably have to cancel,” she protested. The two booked a family trip with their two kids to fly to Las Vegas and then drive to Los Angeles for spring break. Being teachers, neither adult is allowed to leave early on the last day of school. The originally scheduled flight in the 6 p.m. hour was moved up an hour a couple of months before departure, she said.

With all four of them at a different school, my sister-in-law noted there would be no time to collect everyone and their luggage to meet the rigid flight cut-off times demanded by Swoop, who has a history of running late, anyway. I suggested she call the airline to explain the story but she noted there is a fee just to speak to someone at Swoop about the reservation. Her attitude: “Maybe it’s free to get help in this kind of situation but whatever.” She is already defeated before even heading to the airport. As of this posting, the trip arrangements hadn’t been sorted out.

The discussion led to family members sharing nightmare stories about Swoop they’d heard from colleagues or friends, read on the internet or saw on the news — such as when the airline kicked off a man for being disabled and when people were “stranded” on a “trip from hell.” I was a staunch defender of WestJet, suggesting that the airline wouldn’t put its reputation on the line with shady service tactics. ‎I was wrong. WestJet sold out quicker than one of its own still-unreasonably-priced seat sales.

Fast forward to last weekend when I was at the Winnipeg airport boarding my we-probably-aren’t-leaving-on-time flight.‎ It was smooth sailing through security and customs, as is often the case at YWG. Once you come face to face with the Swoop pink, you start to see red (and then orange, yellow, etc.).

Fully understanding that discount carriers are a nickel-and-dime operation, my colleague and I tested the waters to see how rigid Swoop is. Despite there being many open seats, we were still asked to pay to change a row or seat on the plane. That is explained in the beginning of the transaction, but when it’s literally moments‎ before takeoff, is there flexibility? No. And once you’re in the air, the sweater-wearing not-energetic-enough-for-WestJet flight crew immediately played seat monitor and shooed people back to their original seat.

Our direct flight to FTL was on a plane similar to WestJet though it wasn’t as warm. By that I mean, the main aisle had no carpeting and it looked like it was in the middle of a reno. As for warm, it got there, at least for me with the fan above my seat not blowing cold air while flying over tropical Florida.

The clientele was largely young parents with tiny goo-goo-gaa-gaa babies who, for the most part, shut up during the flight — by all accounts, anyway. I had distraction from my own digital entertainment I had to provide for my s‎eat… that wouldn’t recline… that I couldn’t choose for free.

When we landed, we slowed to a crawl before ultimately stopping on the tarmac. We were told there was no arrival gate for us so we couldn’t move. To his credit, the pilot got us in early, so that was a plus. With the wait, we were basically on time, if not a little late.

The usual suspects on the plane immediately stood up and crowded the aisles despite not being able to go anywhere since the door wasn’t open. I squinted to the back of the plane to see my colleague who gave me a wave.

During our stay in Fort Lauderdale, we got several notifications from Swoop, the airline that added a surcharge in January after Canada’s new passenger rights came into effect. In fact, every time my phone would ding with an email, we started saying, “What’s the change now?” In the 24 hours leading up to departure, there were multiple gate change and flight time change emails. As we were on a yacht tour in the morning, we got a ding notice and joked to the boat captain, “Flight’s an hour late. Let’s go for another spin!” (So, maybe a win in our case?)

We motored through FTL airport only to find we’d be even later than the later we expected. Not by a lot, but it’s still a pain when an airline has strict rules for passenger tardiness but when the delay is theirs due to scheduled maintenance as outlined in their notification emails, they don’t seem to feel there’s need for make-good situations — outside of what’s bound by law with the updated, though largely airline-favouring, passenger bill of rights.

At the gate there was confusion because a Hamilton-bound flight and Winnipeg-bound flight were side by side. We knew our Winnipeg flight was late but nobody seemed to know which lineup was for which flight. At this point, late was late. Whether it was another 10 minutes or an hour, it didn’t make a difference to me.

Here’s another interesting note: My colleague had both of our boarding passes on her phone and her passport was checked but I was waved through. I extended my passport to the agent and she didn’t even look at it. Is that against the rules? I challenge Swoop and airport officials to review surveillance footage to verify my claim if this was indeed a security breach.)

We said our goodbyes and my colleague went to the back of the plane. I wedged into my window seat beside a teenager and someone with whom he was travelling. They seemed quiet and there was only one screaming baby in the vicinity so I wasn’t overly concerned about the potential obnoxiousness on the four-hour flight to Canada.

I got a bit of sleep during the flight but a bit of turbulence woke me up and so too the stomach of the traveller beside me. Instantly, there was a gush of liquid on the back of the seat in front of him, a splash of spewy shrapnel on my shorts and subsequently running down my pants-less leg, ultimately reaching my shoe. I quickly took off my shoe and hand-swiped a swoop (pun definitely intended) onto the floor as my neighbour’s baseball hat fell on my lap. As quickly as his first chunky stream subsided, another hit, though this in a more downward direction ultimately filling the surface of his underseat-stowed backpack, later dripping into my freshly removed shoe. Then a third rush flowed as I cowered against the wall attempting not to look too disgusted but, maybe, somewhat sympathetic? Eventually he used the hurl bags but remained at his seat, despite the turbulence not being that significant to remove himself from the area.

Throughout this time, never did anybody say to him, “OK, let’s get you up to the bathroom right now.” His travel partner and at least three flight attendants quickly rushed in to observe from a distance and let the carnage continue at our seats. The woman (I can’t assume his mom because she appeared to be too young, though older than he) was peppered with questions and given a questionnaire that was filled out by a flight attendant as I looked on in disbelief. Minutes had passed and I remained unnoticed. Sitting quietly so I didn’t look like an inconsiderate dick, I continually looked up in hopes of making eye contact with the crew. To no avail. Instead, after what seemed about 15 minutes, the boy was escorted to the front of the plane as I was handed moist towelettes. Uh, how about a mop? And maybe some bleach.

Barefoot and stepping on the seats to get to the aisle, then to the back of the plane, I was told I could go into the bathroom to clean off the Swoop passenger’s vomit. I questioned my involvement in the cleanup and was offered a coronavirus-esque mask and gloves if desired. Um, yeah, that would be great. (Internal thought: Is there a fee for that, too?) I confirmed with the uninterested crew at the back of the plane if I understood correctly the shut-up-and-do-it-yourself command, and yes, that was in fact the case.

‎After a few minutes of doing laundry in the Swoop airplane bathroom, I decided to take some selfies to document and prove my case should the distant-vibed airline protest or dispute my story. As I scrubbed away the fabric of my shoes with the provided alcohol-scented wipes, I popped open the door to ask for the Swoop customer service number to call upon landing. Nobody would tell me so I muttered, “It’s fine, I’ll go through media relations for a radio segment.” Still unfazed by that implied threat, I quit wasting their standing-around time. It was interesting, however, to hear other radio chats about how Swoop has failed Canadians.

Now, I realize it’s not the airline’s fault the kid got sick. I’m not blaming them for that. What I was expecting was a customer-service-type apology and a little more assistance than seemingly groaning at the idea of handing me surgical lab equipment to head into a Hazmat zone. Remember, this is Swoop, the airline that notoriously kicked off a family whose kid got sick.

After spewage removal, my damp and strange-smelling shoes were kept in a blue bag and I was shown to a new seat. As I walked barefoot down the aisle, I looked like an inmate carrying a bag of personal belongings who’s heading into the slammer. As I got settled next to a wonderful mother and her 20-something daughter, they asked if I was OK. They were more compassionate than the people paid to be compassionate on the flight. Though, perhaps they thought they’d be in danger if I was the gut gusher. I reassured them I was the splatter victim in this case.‎ (But shoutout to the flight attendant who gave me a $2 ginger ale for nothing when she held up the laminated menu and had the nerve to ask if I wanted to purchase anything.)

My dry seatmates and I bonded over the inconsideration felt while flying Swoop. We had some laughs as a screamy kid in front of me kept looking over his seat at us and poking his head between the next-to-no-recline chairs. Later, he was on the floor reaching under his seat and grabbing my toes, which at first was gross for me but then I thought, “Go for it, buddy. You have no idea what’s happened to my feet today.”

As we landed with a thud, scaring even the seasoned flyers, I had a bit more time to chat with my new travel friends. It was an extended conversation because we had to wait for a customer service agent to move the walkway to the plane. (I guess they weren’t expecting us?) My takeaway from Swoop arrivals is that the airline doesn’t have assigned gates and the planes are just shooed to anywhere — like an inconvenienced Swoop passenger. Maybe because they’re the annoying little brother of WestJet they’re not given priority for anything.

Having no time to fight it out with Swoop personnel on the ground at YWG thanks to a nearly two-hour late arrival, including customs processing times, I had to bolt from the airport. Last night, I reached out to WestJet and Swoop media relations for comment on what happened during my flight from Fort Lauderdale to Winnipeg.

For its part, the airline said in a statement to SpeakFree Media, “Swoop sincerely apologizes for the uncomfortable situation you encountered on your flight. It was truly an unfortunate event and our flight attendants worked as quickly as they could, following procedures, to contain the biohazard. We appreciate you bringing this to our attention. We consider all feedback as we continually make improvements to our procedures.”

Naturally, you’re wondering what the airline did to make things right and to compensate for ruined shoes and a traumatic in-flight experience. The answer? Just as you’d expect from everything you’ve read about Swoop in this post: Nothing, ’cause they don’t give a shit. We are waiting for media relations from Swoop and WestJet to comment on this.

It should be noted that both Swoop and WestJet were sent copies of this article before providing comment and neither disputed the recap of this in-flight incident.

I regrouped with my colleague today and she said, “I’ll pay more to fly with someone else. What’s a couple hundred bucks when it comes to comfort and service?”

The verdict: We won’t be enticed by cheap Swoop deals anymore.

Have you experienced trouble with Swoop? Give us a shout and share your story.

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