The Trip That Never Was

I was going spend Christmas in Ontario with my family. My flight was scheduled to leave on Dec 19 at 12:05 am – I like to take the red eye from Vancouver to Toronto because then I arrive early in the morning, power through the day, and am tired by Eastern bedtime. If I take a regular daytime flight, I get there in the evening but my brain is still on Pacific time and then I can’t get to sleep until like 3 am ET and then I end up sleeping in super late and missing out on time I want to spend with my family. So anyway, that’s why I chose a 12:05 am departure time. What I didn’t realize when I booked it was that there was going to be a big snowstorm on what is the busiest travel day of the year.

All day on Monday I kept checking the status of my flight and it always said it was “on time”. As I arrived at the airport around 10 pm (I decided to get to the airport the recommended 2 hours early in case the security line was long, what with it being the holidays and all), I got a notification that my flight was delayed to 12:25 am. No big deal, I thought, it’s snowy – a little delay is not unexpected. So I check my bag, go through security, wander around the airport a bit (I like to get some movement in before sitting on a long flight) and I notice that there are a lot of people in the airport for this late hour – as I mentioned, I often fly on the red eye and usually it’s not so busy. I run into a friend of mine, who coincidentally is booked on the same flight to Toronto as me; she and her family are heading there to grab a connecting flight to Cuba. She tells me that our gate has changed (I was heading to the gate on my boarding pass and she and her family were heading from that gate to the new one). So I walk there with them and we chat for a bit and then go off to the bathroom and she and her family go off to find a place to sit. Then I go and find a place to sit and read my book while I wait.

Then we get another notification – the flight is now delayed to 12:40 am, and I think “oh man, my poor friend. Their connection in Toronto is going to be really tight and Pearson is a big airport!”1 I sit and read my book for a while, and then I start to hear murmuring around me. I look up and the person next to me says “Which flight are you waiting for?” I say “Toronto. You?” “Calgary”, she replies. Turns out there are so many people this gate because there’s a bunch of people waiting for a flight to Calgary that was supposed to leave at 11 pm (and they’ve been continually told that it’s delayed, but not cancelled), plus all the people waiting for my flight to Toronto. The sign at the gate says it’s for my flight, delayed to 12:40 am. I realize it is 12:30 am, so there’s no way we are leaving at 12:40. Then I realize there have been zero announcements in the two hours I’ve been waiting. That’s really odd. Also, a plane has been at the gate forever, and I’d assumed it was for my flight but they were waiting for crew members or for a slot at the de-icing station, but now I’m wondering if it’s the plane for Calgary.

I get up to go find my friend to see how she is doing – as we chat, we start to hear louder murmurings and I distinctly hear a passenger say the the word “cancelled”. “They are talking about the Calgary flight, right?” I think hopefully to myself. My friend and I decide to go see what the gate agents are saying, as they are talking to the people crowded around the gate (but not making any announcements). “Oh, all flights are cancelled tonight” the gate agent says, as if she is just telling us what time it is. “Do you live here?” she asks and when we say “yes”, she says, “Go home. Everything is canceled. Go home and wait for an email from West Jet that will tell you when you’ve been rebooked for. You can get your checked bags at the baggage carousel.”

So there are several problems with this situation, beyond the obvious one that we aren’t getting to go to Toronto. First, the luggage from every flight that was supposed to leave the airport has to be loaded onto the baggage carousel, along with all the luggage from flights that had arrived (as flights were still arriving). The airport does not have enough staff to do this much work, nor is there room on the carousels for all those bags, nor is there room in the baggage carousel area for that many people. Second, many people are lining up to try to take to an airline representative to see if they can rebook, or to find out if they get a hotel voucher or can even find a hotel or just deciding to sleep on the floor. Third, it’s now almost 1 am, transit is no longer running, and thousands of people need to leave the airport in a snowstorm. I call Scott and let him know I need him to come and get me, so he has to get out of bed and drive through the snowstorm to the airport for a second time.

The baggage carousel area is a gong show. People are packed in that tiny area (which also has piles of bags that have been taken off carousels by staff to prevent the carousels from becoming jammed)> waiting for bags. The screens that tell you what carousel your luggage will be on only show incoming flights, not cancelled ones. Eventually announcements start to happen – they announce cancelled flight numbers along with what carousel the bags will be on. Then an announcement to stand back as staff are coming to take bags off the carousels because they are getting too full. So now you have to keep an eye on the carousels and push your way through a crowd to go see if you bag is in one of the random piles. At one point they announced that if you don’t want to wait for your luggage, you can just leave it and they will store it and then you can file a missing bag claim and they will deliver it to you. If I was on my way home from a trip and my bag just contained my dirty laundry, I might do that. But my bag has all my clothes and all the Christmas presents I was going to give to my family in Ontario. So I decide to wait.

After about an hour, my bag finally comes out… and it’s at the very top of the conveyer belt behind several other bags. I try to get it, but I’m way too short to grab the handle and pull it over all the other bags. The lady beside me tries to help, but she can’t either, but her very tall husband who was standing slight further down sees our struggle and grabs it for me. But this point, Scott was already there to pick me up, so off I go.

I finally get an email from WestJet at 7:30 pm on Tuesday… and it’s asking me if I want to upgrade my seat on my flight from Toronto to Vancouver scheduled for Dec 29. LOL! Then at 11:15 pm, another email. This one says “We’re sorry to advise you that one or more of your WestJet flights has been canceled. The reason for the cancellation is currently being investigated.” Oh, was my flight that was supposed to leave 23 hours ago cancelled? Thanks for this timely update! It goes on: “Unfortunately, we’re unable to offer you an alternative WestJet flight at this time. We will continue to attempt to find and offer you a flight that accommodates your travel needs that would depart within 48 hours of your original departure time. Alternatively, you’re entitled to a full refund for your airfare if you would prefer. WestJet can also seek alternative travel arrangements on your behalf.” So obviously there won’t be any alternative travel arrangements – there are now so many cancelled flights and the storm is still happening, so there’s no way I’m getting rebooked. The email says to get my refund, I need to speak to someone at WestJet and there’s a button to click to schedule a time for them to call me. Here are the earliest available call back times:

Screenshot of a "Callback Request" page from West Jet showing that the earliest possible time I can get a call back from West Jet to arrange for my refund for my canceled flight is December 25 at 5 pm.

I really feel bad for whoever’s job it is to do these callbacks!

I’ve also received two robocalls from West Jet each of the last two mornings – both before 5 am. When I woke up both days, I listened to the voice mail, it says that it has an important update about my flight, but then there’s no actual update. It just says they are “sorry for the inconvenience” and if I want to talk to someone, I should call their 1-800. So useful.

I was thinking that I experienced all the most annoying parts of traveling – packing, going through security, and waiting for a checked bag – but without the good part of actually being wherever it is that you wanted to go. But then I read some news stories and realized that there is one other annoying part of traveling that I avoided – being on the plane. Some other people were not so lucky:

Screenshot from a news story that says "Several departing planes full of passengers were left sitting on the frozen tarmac overnight, unable to return tot he gate to let travellers deplane."
Screenshot from a news story that says "People were throwing up, people were yelling for a doctor or nurse because they were having panic attacks, there was a cat in there walking around and I think it used the bathroom as well," said Jessica Campbell, who was stuck at the gate on her Toronto-bound flight for 12 hours. "It was just a really traumatic, horrific scene in there.""

So I guess things could always be worse! And I was lucky that I could actually go home. Tonnes of people who were on their way home have been trapped at the airport for days waiting for a way home. And Vancouver is a place that lots of people transfer, so there are tonnes of people who flew in from somewhere else with the intention of catching a connecting flight and are now trapped there, unable to go onto their destination, but also unable to get a flight to go back home. So I’m going to count my blessings and make the best of Christmas at home instead of Christmas with my family.

Large decorative snowflake and star with snow piled up on them in front of a restaurant patio with snow piled up on the tables and heaters, which is in front of a restaurant with snow on the roof. Photo taken in New Westminster on Dec 20, 2022
  1. Oh sweet summer child, if only you knew what was in store! []

Comments |1|

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

Legend *) Required fields are marked
**) You may use these HTML tags and attributes: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <s> <strike> <strong>
Category: travel
Tags: ,