Why did flights stop at Pearson while other airports carried on?

Warm clothes and layering, it seems


After temperatures plunged to -24 C on Monday night, Toronto’s Pearson International Airport halted incoming flights until later the next morning. Delays and cancellations saw passengers in endless lines, conked out in sleeping bags and waiting in frustration for luggage.

Greater Toronto Airports Authority spokeswoman Shereen Daghstani explained to the Canadian Press that the overnight “ground freeze” was in response to concerns about equipment safety and the time employees would spend out in the cold. It was minus 37 C with the wind chill.

Meanwhile, at airports in other parts of Canada, it was business as usual.

“Winter in Winnipeg is winter, and it’s cold,” explained Felicia Wiltshire, manager of communications and public affairs at Winnipeg Airports Authority. “We’re used to operating in the cold.”

It was minus 28 in that city overnight, yet the work carried on. The secret? “Our staff are well equipped with lots of warm clothing and gear.”

Temperatures of -30 C to -40 C are the norm at this time of year in Yellowknife, where airport employees layer up against the chill. “We’re used to it,” said Earl Blacklock, manager of public affairs and communications for the Northwest Territories Department of Transportation. “The advantage that our employees have is that it’s always cold. So you always dress for that cold.”

The Yellowknife Airport has closed about three times during the past seven years, though never because of the snow. “We don’t tend to need to shut down in terms of weather or cold.”

Who decides when to cancel flights? Blacklock and Wiltshire said airlines— not airports—tend to decide whether or not to ground flights, usually due to poor weather or mechanical issues.

In Yellowknife, it’s not the cold that’s the problem. Instead the concern is about warm weather, which melts ice and creates dangerous, slippery conditions.

“At Pearson it drops to below -30 C, that’s a major issue,” says Blacklock. “Here it warms up to -5 C, and that’s a major issue.”


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Why did flights stop at Pearson while other airports carried on?

  1. Ok….here it is from someone who works at the Toronto Airport….Manitoba, Alberta, Yukon and Northwest Territories are used to sub zero temperatures. This is the coldest day we have had in Toronto this winter. I work for a ground transportation company at Pearson. We are located in both terminals and I work on the ground floor in Terminal One, inside, not outside. Today I wore my parka and gloves all day because it was so cold I could see my breath. So, don’t blame the ground workers, they were subjected to freezing their faces off. Sometimes travelers don’t understand what we have to go through with our jobs. All I can say is….please be patient because we are trying to help you reach your destinations, even if you have to wait, you will eventually get there.

    • OMG this response pretty much underscores what really happened at Pearson. A bunch of whiney, pampered, union employees that don’t want to work in the cold!
      Awww you could see your breath? REALLY! lol You people took the job to work outside year round and you live in Canada. So buck up, dress for the conditions, and get after it! Tens of thousand Canadians in hundreds of industries do it each and every day! No matter HOW COLD!
      “Don’t worry, you’ll get there eventually” Yea that’s the right attitude…
      What total BS

      • Hey Bud, Your “other industries” do not get as much volume as GTAA and every one of its partners, and I am not unionized employee at Pearson, but I do ground handling there, and what you have not seen, and felt, you cannot say it just like that. Together with winds up to 95 km/h you have the whole apron and every gate with frozen solid ice. When you park a flight barely seeing if it is on the right line, and then start noticing that the airplane is just moving sideways, almost hitting the bridge or your coworker, when even equipment with chains cannot pull at least one cart of bags, and at the same time you got thousands of needles pinching you from the cold to every part of the exposed skin, only then you realize that you have to take it very slowly, and that your usual task will take you 3 or 4 times longer than it usually is. And the greedy airlines just dont care and pile up flights on top of you, that’s where your backlog starts, that’s where 16 hours into your shift at 5 am you realize that this is too much, and try to make it home to sleep for a few only to come back next day and do this all over again, knowing that this will not stop, and no you not getting paid more, yes you might get some free coffee or hot drinks from your employer, but man….. trust me you just have to be there to realize why Pearson turned upside down. The airlines are greedy, they will not cancel or redirect until they fail, that is what happened on Tuesday after they went through hell on Monday.

        • Yes, those “greedy airlines” wanting to do business and move people around the globe. What a bunch of idiots.

          Be a big boy and dress for the conditions, like everybody else in this country does.

          Toronto has additional staff to deal with it’s additional volume. You still haven’t even come close to explaining why the airport in Toronto can’t accomplish what every other airport in Canada does. I’m left to assume that it’s because the staff there, like the rest of Toronto, are too stupid and soft to be able to deal with weather.

        • Well said FGH!!!

      • Obviously you didn’t read (understand) my post. I am not a pampered wussy union worker who works outside for an airline. I said I work for a GROUND TRANSPORTATION COMPANY in terminal one at Pearson. I also said we were located INSIDE the building on the ground floor, NOT outside. The temperature was -2C at our counter that night. Get your stories straight people, before you post! Geez!

    • “we are trying to help you reach your destinations”…. even though we’re actually not trying to help, we’re taking the day off because we’re incapable of dressing for current weather conditions.

      “This is the coldest day we have had in Toronto this winter”, and that’s reason to shut down the airport? Should Pearson shut down every time it’s the coldest day of the year? Why can every other airport in Canada continue to operate on their coldest days of the year, despite the fact that their coldest days are colder than at Pearson?

      • Rick, nobody in my company took the day off. Please read my reply to wopontour and THEN carry on with your armchair comments.

    • You as a Toronto ground crew employee admit ground crews in other cities work regularly in cold & wind conditions as bad or worse than Toronto’s been getting lately. But somehow you seem to think you deserve special rights to refuse to work in conditions other cities deem acceptable for workers because Toronto Airport wusses aren’t as used to the cold! What BS. I imagine many airport workers in Winnipeg when they first started their jobs weren’t used to working outside in the cold either. But they did not get to stop work on cold days just because they were not yet used to it They GOT used to it. They were REQUIRED to get used to it. Which is what Toronto workers should have been required to do this week – dress for it, & get used to working in the cold, or be fired with cause for not fulfilling required duties the job entails. The traveling public deserves better than to be held hostage by weak willed ground crew wusses refusing, for not very credible reasons, to work. Toronto workers should be glad they, unlike workers on the Prairies & up north, only get such cold conditions rarely instead of regularly in winter. But they should not get to quit work just ’cause it’s cold, inflicting unnecessary abuse on the traveling public. I view this as a scandal, & I’m not even one of the travelers stranded by this indefensible abuse by workers & their superiors who’ve allowed it. Justice has not yet been served in this case. Heads should roll, & class action lawsuits should be in the offing.

      • Oh you haven’t heard? The cold in Toronto is “special”. You can’t expect Torontonians to work in this weather, because they’re more enlightened than the rubes that work at airports everywhere else in North America.

      • Cat……Please read my reply to wopontour. I wish people would actually READ and UNDERSTAND what I posted BEFORE they jump to conclusions.

        • Point taken. However, your post clearly shows you defending the outside workers’ (non)-actions. QUOTE: “don’t blame the ground workers, they were subjected to freezing their faces off. Sometimes travelers don’t understand what we have to go through with our jobs.”
          -You evidently share the same poor attitude as your outside worker colleagues. My prior post criticizes that attitude & the abdication of responsiblity (quitting work) that followed. Whether you personally are among those that are outside is mostly beside the point.

  2. I for one was impressed that we took the safety of the employees and all passengers seriously. it’s winter, weather us a major concern – suck it up, and I mean the travellers and politicians. You want to travel in this weather, walk! Don’t put others at risk by your demands. We all know weather is unpredictable, boohoo. You should take that into consideration and stop blaming others. Safety should always be first. It doesn’t look good on you when you are so selfish, travellers and politicians.

    • There are literally thousands of Canadians who are out working in this cold right now without putting their safety at risk. It’s called dressing for the conditions. As the article stated, every other airport in Canada is carrying on with business as usual, except for Toronto. Why is it that the cold threatens the lives of Torontonians but nobody else in Canada? Could it be because the city is made up of a bunch of sissies who are too stupid to figure out how to freeze their food in the middle of an ice storm?

    • Exactly! Thank you monix!

  3. This article doesn’t even come close to answering the question posed in the headline.

    The only conclusion left to draw is that staff at Pearson are not as tough as staff at every other airport in Canada.

  4. To WopOnTour and rawr:
    Read what the ground handler said. TWICE. He is not unionized. You both come across as lacking the basic ability to read and comprehend.
    I guess you are both so cushy-comfy in your jobs (with no reading or comprehension skills) that you’ve never needed to look for one recently, or even in the last 10 years. For if you had, you would know that MANY employees who are ground handlers and tarmac workers are NOT unionized and are paid minimum wage or slightly above. These simple truths (hope they weren’t too difficult to comprehend!) are openly stated IN the job ad itself.
    Consider yourselves very fortunate that you’re in your ideal field, earning a large sum, while you accuse others of being lazy, overpaid, and unionized. Try picking up the Classifieds to see what’s available out there, simply to educate yourself.
    It might work wonders for your brain AND attitude.

    • Thank you for pointing this out so eloquently.

  5. This has all the earmarks of the evil Stephen Harper.

    • Yes, everything is Stephen Harper’s fault. Obviously when the staff started calling in “sick” to avoid working in the cold, that’s entirely Stephen Harper’s fault. He should have given them gift cards paid for by taxpayers so that they could go and buy appropriate winter clothing.

  6. Why should anyone expect anything except whining from people in Toronto? After all, the city’s population is home to all the expat Montrealers who ran away instead of dealing with the PQ.

    • So where do you live?

  7. Supposed Airport Authority concerns about “equipment safety” sound like pure diversionary bull. The real reason appears to be re. QUOTE:”the time employees would spend out in the cold.”
    -Many of the same Toronto planes supposedly too impaired by cold to fly, fly regularly in & out of frigid Prairies, suggesting the Airport Authority is stringing the public a transparent & not very clever lie.

    -Note ground crews in Winnipeg, Calgary, Edmonton, Iqualuit, etc. do not stop working just because the wind chill is -37C. If they did, those airports would shut down frequently in winter. They dress for the weather & endure cold as a requirement of their job in winter. Why are Toronto ground crews allowed special indulgence, & allowed to get away with insisting on being total wusses refusing to work in conditions ground crews elsewhere in Canada are required to work in? This work stoppage is unacceptable.Toronto Airport ground crews should not get to hold the public hostage by an indefensible refusal to work in cold just because Toronto workers may not be as used to cold weather as crews in other cities are. Poor babies. Instead of indulging these weak willed wusses, they should be told to get used the cold, or else be fired with cause for refusal to fulfill required duties. This is B.S. If I were a Toronto traveler stranded because of this outrageous, unjustified work stoppage, I’d be mighty peeved. Class action lawsuit, anyone?

  8. What hateful b..shit one can read in these comments. On average winter in Toronto is much milder than winters in Winnipeg, Montreal or Quebec. You can’t compare. Torontonians are not equipped for the kind of winter we are experiencing this year. The city of Toronto itself is not equipped to deal with harsh winters. As far as I know Toronto has few, if any snow removal equipment, only has snow plows. I remember as a child in Montreal – I am in my sixties – seeing processions of huge snowblowers and dump trucks crisscrossing every residential street of this large city. This would put my mother on alert as every year we would read reports of children playing in snow castles being killed by snow removal equipment.
    The last time we had a winter like this was in 1999, when Mel Lastman called in the army. Streets were so narrowed by snow banks left by the plows that fire trucks and ambulances could not longer pass on them.