Extreme cold + long delays = hot tempers at Pearson

TORONTO – An overnight wind chill of about -40 C in the Toronto area is causing huge problems at Pearson International Airport today, but some flights are beginning to depart.

The airport says through its official Twitter account that it put a so-called ground freeze on arrivals until at least 10 a.m., and announced at about 8:45 a.m. that departures were slowly starting.

The extreme cold is causing equipment freezing and safety issues for employees.

Peel regional police say extra officers were called to the airport around 5:25 a.m. when a crowd of about 300 people around a luggage carousel in Terminal 3 became “irate” because they couldn’t get their bags.

A message on the Westjet website had said baggage would have to remain on board some flights until “sometime Tuesday.”

Airlines are urging passengers to check their flight status before heading to the airport because of cancellations or 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.