‘Full Gong Show’: A winter storm upends air travel in Canada, thwarting family gatherings and more

Linda Ricker has not spent Christmas with her son since December 2020. That year, she flew from her home in Florida to visit him in Halifax, where he is at university. After a two-week quarantine, she was able to enjoy quality time with her only child.

Ricker thought this year would be different. COVID-19 restrictions no longer apply to air travel. It could be Christmas before the pandemic again.

But after a giant winter storm hit Canada on Friday, air travel was turned upside down. Hundreds of flights have been severely delayed or cancelled, leaving thousands of passengers stranded and unable to reunite with loved ones over the holidays.

Ricker’s son was one of thousands affected – his flight on Air Canada from Halifax to Fort Myers had been cancelled, leaving him unsure of his vacation plans. He was eventually rebooked to fly to Toronto on December 26, waited nearly 20 hours to fly to New York City and then arrived in Florida at midnight on December 27.

“It didn’t make sense, because his return flight was on December 30th, so we had two days together so he would travel 26 hours?” Ricker said.

Ricker then tried to cancel the flight on the Air Canada website, but when she did, he told her to contact a customer service agent. The problem, she said, was that no one moved.

“You can’t go online to cancel and when they tell you to call someone, you can’t do that either,” she said. “I’m worried we’ll end up paying for these trips we don’t want.”

Many passengers, like Ricker, are left reeling with no contact from airlines on the next steps on rescheduled flights, lost baggage, or compensation they might be entitled to.

Peter Buchanan said he had been up for 30 hours, after rescheduling his flight on Friday to Saturday evening. That setback was a far cry from his initial disappointment.

He was scheduled to leave on a business trip to Zurich at 9:15 am on December 23, but the flight was constantly delayed, until passengers were able to board the plane at 1:30 am on Saturday. There, another two hours passed before the plane’s doors closed and the safety video was played.

“At that point, we thought the trip was going to leave,” he said. But 15 minutes later, the pilot said that by the time the plane touched down in Zurich, he’d put the crew into their scheduled shift. Therefore, the flight was cancelled.

At 5 am Buchanan retrieved his bags which were “absolutely free for all” with baggage on the same flights placed on different roundabouts and dozens of unclaimed bags strewn all over the floor. During the two-day delay, Buchanan said no free food or drinks were offered to the affected passengers.

“At no time was there a word of compensation or an attitude really trying to help us,” he said. “I am loyal to Air Canada but this was a complete gong show.”

For its part, the airline indicated mitigating circumstances. “Despite winter storms causing chaos across North America, Air Canada employees have worked hard in extreme conditions over recent days and safely transported hundreds of thousands of customers to be with loved ones over the holidays,” an Air Canada spokesperson said Saturday. .

Lindsey Sahota’s WestJet flight from Vancouver to Toronto on Thursday was canceled. The initial reason given in writing by the airline was due to “crew control at YYZ”, meaning the reason for the cancellation was within the airline’s control.

But at the time of boarding, I overheard customers telling passengers that the flight was delayed due to weather problems in Toronto.

Sohota waited two hours for her luggage, but neither of them ever arrived. She was told at the airport to file a claim online for lost baggage. When she came home and filed the claim, a pop-up on the website told her she needed to speak to a customer service agent to file the claim.

“It was a three hour call, but someone from WestJet finally filed my suit,” she said. “I’m still not sure where that baggage is… That flight never left the airport.”

She was planning to visit family in Toronto, the first Christmas with them since the pandemic began. Without rescheduling the trip, she won’t be able to make plans to celebrate the holidays with loved ones across the country.

“I just wonder, was it really the weather or staffing issues? There was no communication and it’s frustrating. Even just knowing we might be able to hop on a flight in a few days would help but they leave us in the dark.”

On Saturday, WestJet canceled 60 flights scheduled to take off from Toronto Pearson International Airport, plus one flight scheduled for Sunday that was canceled before Christmas Day; This is in addition to the 300 flights the airline canceled on December 23.

WestJet chief operating officer Diederick Benn said the company apologizes for disrupting holiday travel plans and its teams are trying to restore operations on the ground and in the air.

Friday’s worst winter storm appears to have passed in many places, and Environment Canada has lifted a winter storm warning for Toronto and the GTA. But departures hours late were still common on the Pearson International Airport website, and many worrisome flights would continue to be affected throughout the weekend.

Air Canada said Thursday that because of the winter storm, it will implement a “good faith refund policy” allowing customers to request a refund or travel voucher if the ticket was purchased no later than December 21, 2022 for travel between December 22 and December 2022. 26. The flight must also be to and from an airport in Canada.

“If you are scheduled to travel during the affected period, you can refund your reservation to request a refund up to two hours before departure, free of charge on your Air Canada flight,” says the Air Canada website.

But even if refunds or compensation could be offered, many air travelers missed out on vacations with loved ones.

For Ricker, that means her 22-year-old son will be spending Christmas alone in Halifax, after two years trying from the pandemic.

“We were so frustrated and emotional yesterday,” she said. “He’s there alone and he doesn’t have anyone. I obviously miss him so much, we only see each other twice a year.”

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