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.”