TORONTO – Extreme cold in the Toronto area, where temperatures plunged to about -40 C overnight with the wind chill, caused a rash of delays and flight cancellations at Pearson International Airport.
The airport put a so-called ground freeze on all North American arrivals through the morning, but it was lifted at 10 a.m. Many departing flights were delayed and about 14 per cent were cancelled.
The freeze was put in place because of the extreme cold’s impact on equipment and efforts to minimize time outdoors for employees, said Greater Toronto Airports Authority spokeswoman Shereen Daghstani.
“It was the extreme weather conditions that impacted safe operations and employee safety,” she said. “When it comes to refuelling or removing the bags, those need to be done by employees.”
Peel regional police said five extra officers were called to the airport around 5:25 a.m. to deal with a group of about 300 people at a luggage carousel in Terminal 3.
“(They) were getting very frustrated and irate, because there was a ground freeze and they weren’t getting their baggage,” ” said Const. Lilly Fitzpatrick.
Police “helped calm people down, they answered questions, they tried to get the information that the people needed as to when they were going to be getting their baggage,” Fitzpatrick said.
Airlines were urging passengers to check their flight status before heading to the airport because of the many cancellations and delays.
The problems were reportedly compounded by a backlog of planes waiting for gates to open to offload passengers and long lineups snaked through the Pearson terminals.
Some would-be travellers at the WestJet service counters reported waiting for assistance for more than two hours, and many were calling customer service on their cellphones as they stood in line.
Others slumped in corners, trying to pass the time on their laptops and phones, while young children slept in their parents’ laps.
Daniel Puhl, 21, was scheduled to fly back to Fort McMurray, Alta., late Monday night, but his flight was delayed and eventually cancelled due to the weather.
He managed to book a new flight for 11:15 a.m. today, but sitting quietly on the airport floor hours before his planned departure, he said he wasn’t too hopeful about his chances of taking off on time.
“I try to keep calm, I know it’s nothing I can control and nothing they can control themselves, but you don’t get paid for a day of (missed) work,” he said.
Puhl, who travels between Alberta and his hometown of Fort Erie, Ont., every few weeks, said this is the worst delay he’s faced.
“I’ve never had this happen to me before, ever, and I hope this will be one of the last times,” he said.
Connie Smith said she’d dealt with several weather-related delays and missed connections on her journey from Edmonton back to her home in Newfoundland.
She and her husband were stranded overnight in Toronto after their connecting flight was cancelled. Since then, she said, it’s been one lengthy lineup after another.
“This is horrible, just the waiting and the lineups. It should be more organized,” she said as her husband stood in line at a service counter.
“A lot of people are saying they’ll never fly WestJet again,” she added.