The passengers who were stuck on a grounded Air Transat flight for six hours are describing conditions as “deplorable” as hearings into the matter began Wednesday.

An investigation is underway into why the passengers were not allowed off the plane after it was diverted from Montreal to Ottawa and passengers were stuck on the tarmac for several hours.

The hearing is looking into whether or not Air Transat broke its contract with passengers on two international flights.

A severe thunderstorm forced two Montreal-bound Air Transat flights, one from Brussels, the other from Rome, to be diverted to Ottawa on July 31, along with several other flights.

The airline and airport have pointed the finger at each other for the delay that amounted to almost six hours for one plane and almost five hours on the second.

Passengers said Wednesday they are angry with the way the airline dealt with the situation in the media, describing Air Transat’s attitude as “cavalier” and “disappointing” and conditions on board as “deplorable.”

The 336 passengers on the flight from Brussels spent the almost six hours on the tarmac without food and water.

One passenger called 911 for help after nearly four hours on the grounded plane.

Because a number of flights were diverted that night, the Canadian Transportation Agency is also investigating what happened with the Rome flight.

The goal of the hearing is to determine whether or not Air Transat respected its terms and conditions with respect to the treatment of its passengers.

Ottawa’s airport authority says it’s up to the airline to decide whether or not to deplane, adding that it didn't get a request from Air Transat.

Meantime Air Transat blames the airport, saying staff did not provide loading bridges or stairs that would have allowed passengers to disembark or ground crews to replenish the water reservoir.

One witness said she saw flight attendants outside on the Ottawa tarmac taking selfies alongside one stranded plane amid widespread confusion over the July 31 delays -- six hours in one case, five in the other.

Another witness described a young boy running down the aisle for the toilets in the rear of the plane, but vomiting in the aisle and on passengers before he could make it to the bathrooms.

One by one, passengers told members of the Canadian Transportation Agency, the agency investigating the incidents, that they would have given anything to be allowed off the planes, even if only to face further delays or long drives home.

They described feeling treated like cargo by the airline, rather than as human beings and accused the carrier of being more concerned about getting the planes in the air than it was about the health and safety of its customers.

"There was no relief," passenger Alan Abraham told the panel. "I felt like we were luggage; they had to get us to Montreal no matter what. They didn't care what condition we were in."

The ensuing weeks have seen finger-pointing between the airline and airport officials in the national capital over the incident, which is now subject of a class-action lawsuit.

"Air Transat said that it's the airport of Ottawa, and Ottawa airport says it is Air Transat who didn't ask for help," said Blaise Pascal Irutingabo, one of the passengers who endured trying conditions during a six-hour delay.

"As a passenger, we don't know who to blame or who to talk to about what happened."

Air Transat could face fines as a result of this on top of being forced to compensate passengers.

The hearings continue Thursday, when Air Transat officials telling their side of the story.

On Wednesday, Christophe Hennebelle, the airline's vice-president of corporate affairs offered an apology to passengers, saying the hearings showed the complexity of the situation on July 31.

"We are very aware of the difficult situation that has been experienced by our passengers. We have made our apologies for that and we apologize again," Hennebelle said in a short statement to reporters.

 

With files from The Canadian Press