Flight delays and cancellations, missing luggage disrupt air travel over Canada Day long weekend

Calgary travelers Michael and Patricia Bears line up at WestJet for another hotel voucher after being stranded at Toronto’s Pearson International Airport on July 2.Tijana Martin/The Globe and Mail

Dressed in yesterday’s clothes, Michael and Patricia Bears stood in a long queue among other travelers waiting to check in at Pearson International Airport on Saturday – except they had no intention of fly that day.

The couple, who live in Calgary, were in line to collect a second hotel voucher after being bumped from their return WestJet flight while connecting via Toronto from Charlottetown.

“We had a gong show that came and went,” said Ms Bears, 65. The delay meant Mr Bears had to cancel an MRI on his back in Calgary and will have to wait another three months for a new appointment.

The setbacks are constant during their trip to the Maritimes: their luggage arrives two days after them. Back home, their flight from Prince Edward Island was late. And although they had “run like hell” to make their connecting flight, by the time they reached the gate, their seats had already been reassigned.

“It’s crazy,” Ms. Bears said. “We should be home right now.”

Pearson delays prompted Air Canada to cut summer flights

The long Canada Day weekend saw continued summer travel chaos at major airports across Canada, which were hammered by a surge of travelers and a shortage of airline, security and customs workers . Some of the worst delays occurred in Montreal and Toronto, where check-in lines stretched to terminal entrances.

South of the border, the July 4 long weekend led to US airports being jammed with their biggest crowds since the pandemic began in 2020.

Due to continued airport disruptions, Air Canada last week canceled about 10-15% of its flight schedule for July and August, a crucial time when airlines make much of their profits.

Air Canada said some of the problems are beyond its control, as short-staffed airports struggle to handle an immense amount of baggage in the terminals. Canadian airlines and airport operators have also blamed the federal government for shortages of security personnel that have created bottlenecks at checkpoints.

Travelers wait in the WestJet queue at Toronto Pearson International Airport.Tijana Martin/The Globe and Mail

WestJet spokeswoman Madison Kruger said the airline had tried to ease the stress on its system by consolidating some flights.

“Despite our consistent and proactive efforts, there remain significant operational challenges in the Canadian aviation ecosystem that are beyond our control, contributing to significant delays and occasional cancellations,” she said.

Neither the airline nor the Greater Toronto Airports Authority, which operates Pearson Airport, had statistics available on the number of flight cancellations and delays over the Canada Day weekend.

Air Canada also said summer storms in the northeastern United States and Florida caused delays.

Canada’s three largest airports in Toronto, Vancouver and Montreal have lost a combined $1.8 billion during the pandemic and have been forced to cut capital spending. In May, the federal government committed $330 million to combat delays and lineups, but problems persist. Airlines regularly ask customers to arrive at airports earlier than usual to avoid missing their flights.

Pearson delays prompted Air Canada to cut summer flights

McGill University aviation professor John Gradek said Air Canada is prioritizing its high-priced transatlantic flights as part of its strategy to meet the needs of American travellers. The airline flies US customers from Chicago or other US cities to Toronto or Montreal, where they transfer on an overseas flight.

Passengers on those flights were also caught up in the chaos at Canadian airports over the weekend.

Colleen Barry, an American who lives in Italy and was traveling to San Diego, said her Air Canada flight was delayed to Venice due to a lack of cleaning crews, she was told, which had caused her and her family to miss their correspondence in Montreal.

Ms Barry explained that she had no idea what would happen next when she got off the plane in Montreal, since there had been no communication on other plans. Eventually, they spent the night in Montreal in a hotel that they paid for themselves before being redirected to California via Vancouver.

“There was nothing posted, there was no one to meet us and let us know what was going on, so we just had to find our way on our own with lots of other people doing the same “, she said.

Ms Barry said she thought it was smart to book her flight across Canada months ago, after a previous horrific experience passing through New York during the pandemic.

“We thought, we’re going through Canada, what could go wrong?” she says.

The family tried to make the most of it by strolling through downtown Montreal and leaving the airport to visit Vancouver on another nine-hour layover.

“We’re going to see two of the most beautiful cities in Canada, so we’re looking on the bright side,” she said.

A woman helps her sister search for missing luggage in rows of unclaimed baggage after arriving at Pearson International Airport.Tijana Martin/The Globe and Mail

Others in the crowded Montreal airport were more depressed, like Lyne Audette, 59, who was waiting for her husband to return with news of their luggage.

The couple returned from a trip to the Azores more than a week ago after a delayed connecting flight with Air Canada via Toronto. Neither did his suitcases.

Now, Ms. Audette wonders if she will ever see her luggage again. She said the experience left her powerless and she still didn’t know what city her suitcases were in.

“Last Saturday when we landed we stood in line for an hour and a half just to report that we hadn’t found our luggage,” she said. “We were able to have a nice trip, but there were long delays everywhere, long queues and it’s a bit frustrating.”

Despite being the second busiest in Canada, Vancouver International Airport was able to avoid unusual delays over the long weekend, according to Alyssa Smith, spokeswoman for the Vancouver Airport Authority. Pearson serves many more connections, while more flights use Vancouver as their point of origin or destination, she said.

As Ms Barry waited for her final flight to San Diego, she hoped the relative calm of Vancouver would mean she would soon arrive at her destination.

She is now worried about when she will return via Canada returning to Italy in three weeks.

“We hope we don’t have similar delays because at that time we have to get back to work,” she said.

With reports by Eric Atkins and Associated Press

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