Flight delays, cancellations cripple Alberta’s two big airports

Click to play video: 'Travel trouble for those flying in and out of YYC'
Travel trouble for those flying in and out of YYC
WATCH: Hundreds of flights are cancelled and delayed as western Canada deals with frigid weather. Tomasia DaSilva has more on what travellers are calling a “nightmare situation.” – Dec 19, 2022

Both the Calgary International Airport and Edmonton International Airport were dealing with multiple flight cancellations and delays Sunday and Monday.

According to the departure schedule, it appeared that at least half the flights scheduled to depart from Calgary Monday were delayed or cancelled. Arrivals were also impacted.

At the Edmonton airport, it seemed that there was a slightly lower percentage of delays and cancellations for the day’s planned flights. According to the airport’s website, it appeared about half the arrivals were either delayed or cancelled.

Click to play video: 'Flight delays, cancellations at Edmonton International Airport'
Flight delays, cancellations at Edmonton International Airport

At both airports, the delays and cancellations affected outgoing flights to domestic destinations — like Winnipeg, Montreal and Victoria — and international locations — like Phoenix, Seattle and Cancun. The issues appeared to be happening on most carriers, including WestJet, Air Canada, Sunwing, Swoop and Flair.

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Click to play video: 'Holiday travel advice for passengers at the Edmonton International Airport'
Holiday travel advice for passengers at the Edmonton International Airport

Ashley Stewart was trying to get home to Grande Prairie from Cancun. Her flight had a stopover in Calgary.

“We got delayed four times last night and then at about 2:30 in the morning, they decided to cancel our flights. And we’re supposed to be boarding at 11 p.m.

“They said to just go get a hotel, find your bags and everything the next day. We waited in an hour-long lineup, were told that we were in the wrong lineup, to just come downstairs. So finally I just thought to look and I found our bags.

“Our Grande Prairie flight was delayed four times,” she explained. “Cancun to here, Calgary, was fine. But as soon as we got to Calgary, it was difficult to get to our Grande Prairie flight.”

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Stewart was able to get a ticket on a flight to Grande Prairie at 3 p.m. Monday, but was told there were only two seats left.

“I don’t know what other people going to Grande Prairie are doing. I don’t know if they can get in today.”

She said travelling at this time of year comes with some risk but the amount of delays shocked her.

“You do somewhat expect some delays but I didn’t expect it to be like this,” Stewart said. “We weren’t just the only flight. There were tons of flights that were cancelled so a lot of people were pretty upset. We knew it would be a mess.”

Jared and Tia Reiner were flying from Winnipeg to Calgary on route to Cancun. Their bags made it to Mexico, but they did not.

“Delayed and then delayed again and then cancelled,” Jared said of the Calgary-to-Cancun flight.

“The (bags) are being re-routed to somewhere where we won’t be for three and a half days,” Tia added.

“The flight to Edmonton that we were supposed to catch has been cancelled. Everything else is full,” Jared said, adding they don’t expect to get to Cancun until Wednesday.

Read more: Expect more flight disruptions as labour shortages persist, experts warn

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Holly Durawa drove from Lloydminster to Edmonton Sunday night to catch a direct flight to Winnipeg. The WestJet flight was delayed several times before the plane arrived.

“The plane got there — a couple hours late, it’s fine. The pilot and crew got off the plane, made an announcement over the airport PA that they were overtired, not in a condition to fly, that we should go home and good luck, goodbye.

“The WestJet gate agent was very kindly trying to help as much as possible… It took a while to eventually cancel the flight. It was put down as ‘unscheduled maintenance’ for whatever bureaucratic reason. Then it took about an hour to officially cancel it.

“I’ve never heard any member of a crew be that up front and open,” Durawa said. “I’ve never seen someone break publicly… on the PA system at the airport.”

She was told to go to the departures line for vouchers. Since Durawa had her car, she was able to find a hotel room outside the (booked up) airport zone. She was rebooked (by email notification) on a flight to Winnipeg via Calgary on Monday, but she’s not getting her hopes up.

“The rebooked flight that’s supposed to leave tonight to go to Calgary is already on its third delay and counting.”

But she’s convinced her first cancelled flight was not weather-related.

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“I had clear skies… I had a disgruntled crew that was beyond their hours and were not in a condition to fly and there was no replacement crew, and that’s on WestJet for not taking care of their people,” she said.

“Annoyed, enraged — not with the pilots and the crew. I don’t want to fly with a pilot who doesn’t feel safe and coherent enough to fly a plane. I’m really annoyed with WestJet at this point for not taking care of their staff, for not providing information to their customers or providing their staff with the tools to help their customers.

Durawa said she’s an experienced and frequent flyer but wishes there were more options in Canada.

“I wish we had more airlines in this country. I think it’s awful that we pretty much have two main ones… It’s getting really tiresome.

“If I would have driven, I would be there by now… I would have been home.”

Read more: Another bout of harsh winter conditions hits central Alberta

WestJet provided a statement to Global News, attributing the “multiple cancellations and delays over the past 24 hours” to the severe winter weather impacting operations across Western Canada.

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The airline said there were 104 cancellations on Sunday and 57 cancellations as of 11 a.m. Monday.

“We understand the frustration and disappointment this has caused and our teams are working to re-accommodate guests as quickly as possible,” WestJet spokesperson Madison Kruger said.

“The ongoing extreme cold weather warnings impacting Alberta and prolonged forecasted snow and weather events for regions across B.C. including, Vancouver Island, the Lower Mainland, as well as the Okanagan region, continue to prove challenging as we work to stabilize our operations and ensure the safety of our crews.

“We recognize this has been an incredibly challenging situation for our guests as we navigate limited re-accommodation availability during peak travel time. Safety is our number one priority,” Kruger said.

She added that WestJet is asking travellers to not contact the airline until 72 hours in advance of their flight as staff work to prioritize customers with “imminent travel plans.”

“Re-accommodation options for impacted guests are being provided and communicated through email as soon as they are available,” she said.

Delays at Calgary International Airport on Monday, Dec. 19, 2022. Global News

A spokesperson for the Calgary airport said it is seeing delays due to weather events “like snow and low visibility affecting several airports, as well as extreme cold in Calgary.”

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YYC spokesperson Stephanie Harris said delays can also be caused by passenger volume, staffing, maintenance or connections from other airports.

The airport will see nearly 50,000 guests each day during the holiday season. Harris said passengers should contact the airlines directly for the most accurate information about flight delays. Guests are advised to arrive early.

Click to play video: 'Toronto Pearson airport ranked #1 globally for flight delays'
Toronto Pearson airport ranked #1 globally for flight delays

Steve Maybee, spokesperson for the Edmonton airport, agreed the extreme cold weather has made things more difficult.

“The cold weather we’ve had the last few days, that plays a little bit of havoc with how things move and how fast they go.”

The airlines are still recovering from the pandemic, he said, as higher passenger volumes come at a time when there are still staffing challenges.

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“Things are improving,” Maybee said. “I wouldn’t say it’s fully recovered. Different airlines and different ground handlers, there are still some staffing challenges as we move along, and lots of new employees in the mix, people who have only been in the industry maybe a month or two, so they’re still learning their job.

“This whole week will be busy,” he said, adding the airport could see between 13,000 and 14,000 passengers daily.

Click to play video: 'Air travel complaints soar amid airline issues'
Air travel complaints soar amid airline issues

Much of western and southern Alberta was under an extreme cold warning Monday, including the City of Calgary.

Environment Canada issued the alert, saying extremely cold wind chill values of minus 40 are expected to continue. The weather agency said the extremely cold wind chills will continue through the week, especially in the overnight and early morning hours. A warming trend is expected by the weekend.

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Read more: Compensation for flight disruptions not enough to improve air travel in Canada: advocate

Patricia Coggan and her dog Jackson have been visiting family in Ontario. They were booked on a flight to return home to Calgary on Dec. 17 with Air Canada, one day ahead of a pet travel ban.

“There is a pet travel ban in the luggage compartment between the 18th and Jan. 4,” she explained. “I was scheduled to travel on the 17th ahead of the travel ban, but that (flight) was cancelled, and they rescheduled me for today and unfortunately they will not let my dog board the plane.

“Once they assigned my new flight, I phoned in to make sure I could register my dog and they said: ‘No, absolutely not. There’s a travel ban. There’s no exceptions that we’ll be making at this point in time.'”

That means Coggan will be stuck in Ontario and unable to work for three weeks, until she can fly home with Jackson on Jan. 5.

“I’m not leaving my dog,” she said, adding that she’s worried about keeping her job.

“It’s been a very eye-opening situation… At this point in time, I’ve received no communication from Air Canada and no compensation,” Coggan said.

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Patricia Coggan and her dog Jackson. Supplied to Global News

In an email to Global News, an Air Canada communications officer said: “We are looking into the situation with the passenger transporting her dog and hope to have some options.”

On Tuesday, Air Canada said Coggan and Jackson had been rebooked. Coggan confirmed they were rescheduled to fly home — together — on Thursday.

Air Canada also said adverse winter weather has significantly impacted airlines in the major airports, like Toronto, Montreal and Vancouver.

“As many flights to Calgary begin, end or connect through these hubs, any delays at the hubs translate into delays at the other end in Calgary.

“Due to the winter storms affecting most of the country, these airports had to impose ground departure restrictions, which reduce the number of flights permitted to take off — and this affects the individual carriers’ schedules. For safety reasons, aircraft also need to de-ice before taking off (de-icing operations are run by the airports, not the airlines) and this process is taking longer than expected.

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“There have been issues with airport-owned baggage systems.”

Air Canada said it hired additional people to help with delayed bags.

Read more: More flight delays, cancellations at Vancouver airport amid snow, arctic air

Jen Cridland was booked on a flight back home to Kamloops Monday morning after visiting her mother in Edmonton. She arrived at the airport early, had already checked in, but her return was thwarted by a broken kiosk that prevented her from printing a baggage tag.

“When I went to the bag drop, they weren’t able to print it for me either, so they told me to join the line that was for rebooking for checking in — it was like 200 people long. I told them: ‘If I join this line, I’m probably going to miss my flight.'”

The Kamloops nurse said they prioritized travellers on international flights as she waited.

“I stayed in the line for another hour or so and just rebooked my flight because I missed it.

“It’s so frustrating. Such a simple thing like a bag tag.

“I did what I was supposed to do, was here early, and now still I have to get my mom to come back and get me. I leave on Wednesday.”


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