Prince Rupert travellers were left stranded in Vancouver after three consecutive flights were cancelled from Feb. 24 to 26. Since Air Canada deemed the cancellations were weather-related, passengers were not compensated.
One guest on board was Prince Rupert mayor Herb Pond.
“I’m in a position where it’s not great but it’s not as terrible as it can be for other people who don’t have the ability to reach into their line of credit or credit card… it’s not anybody’s fault when it’s for weather but it is a bit of a financial burden,” he said.
Debbie Larsen was also impacted by the cancellations as she and her son were in Vancouver for a medical appointment. They were booked to fly back to the North Coast on Feb. 24, however, ended up stuck in the lower mainland for two additional nights before flying into Terrace late on the third night.
“They would not compensate us with a hotel room or even help up locate a hotel room,” she said of the airline.
After the first cancellation she was able to get in touch with someone from Prince Rupert who had been assisting her and her son with their travel since it was for medical reasons, and they were re-booked into the hotel they had been staying at the previous two nights. They also still had taxi vouchers, otherwise the travel would have cost more than $60, she said.
“Especially when you’re travelling for medical reasons you’re already under a lot of stress. Then to have that happen, it was quite overwhelming. Saturday was the real kicker though,” she said.
On Saturday, Feb. 25, the flight took-off and made it to the North Coast but did not land in Prince Rupert.
“Apparently we flew around Rupert a couple of times and then we ended up getting diverted to refuel,” Larsen said.
The plane was detoured to Sandspit before it turned around and went back to Vancouver. Overall she said they were stuck on the plane for six hours.
Larsen said the flight crew provided multiple explanations for why they could not land in Prince Rupert including crosswinds, that there was no de-icer and that the runway was too short.
Pond was also on-board the detoured flight to Sandspit and he said he remembers the pilot saying they could not land in Prince Rupert because the wind was coming from the wrong direction. However, while waiting for the plane to refuel in Sandspit he said many people were on their phones and getting photos of the wind sock at the Prince Rupert Airport which was “absolutely flat.”
Pond said the city is taking the cancellations very seriously and looking into whether there is anything that could have been done differently by the Prince Rupert Airport Authority that could have prevented them.
The Northern View contacted the Prince Rupert Airport Authority’s manager and board chair but did not receive a response at the time of writing this article.
While the Prince Rupert Airport Authority runs the airport, its assets are owned by the City of Prince Rupert.
“We the City may not have been directly at fault in any of that but it’s our airport. I take it personally. I take responsibility,” Pond said during a regular council meeting on Mar. 6.
“We need to make sure the service in our airport is of as high quality service as we possibly can.”
Five flights were cancelled from Vancouver to Prince Rupert between Jan. 1 and Mar. 7, a spokesperson for Air Canada stated in an email to The Northern View. Four were cancelled on account of weather and one on account of an ill crew member, they wrote.
According to the Air Canada website, if a passenger arrives at their final destination more than three hours after the scheduled time and the reason was within Air Canada’s control, then they would be eligible for compensation. However, their website states that cancellations outside of Air Canada’s control include an illness of a crew member or passenger and meteorological conditions, which suggests none of the passengers on the five aforementioned cancellations would be eligible.
When Larsen and her son’s flight was cancelled the third day in a row they were re-booked for Feb. 28 but she decided they would try their luck with standby for a flight into Terrace, where her brother could pick them up.
They got in late and the conditions were too poor to drive so they stayed overnight in Terrace before finally making it home on Feb. 27.
As the hotel room and travel to and from the airport were not covered beyond night after the first cancellation (when another organisation helped cover the costs), Larsen said she and her son spent more than $500, even before factoring in the cost of meals.
“I don’t know what the answer is but it’s frustrating to go through,” she said.
She would like to see Air Canada look at developing a contingency plan for poor weather such as flying into Terrace instead and hiring a bus to drive them back after they land.
“I hope Air Canada learns from this and improves their practice to be a bit more accommodating to flying the northern routes,” she said. She did add that she understands there is a cost of doing businesses and they have to make it economically feasible as well to continue offering flights to the North Coast.