John Candy and Steve Martin tried to warn us.
Tens of thousands of travelers flying in and out of Western BC have been experiencing their own special episode of Planes, Trains, and Automobiles as flights are canceled left right and center just in time for Christmas.
It all started when Vancouver, a city that once hosted the winter Olympics, got a lot of snow.
Starting on Sunday, December 18th, up to 30 centimeters of the stuff fell on the city in a 24-hour period.
The city got hit hard, but it was nothing compared to what would be in store for the Vancouver International Airport in the coming days, which very nearly completely shut down for an extended period.
— Harman Bhangu (@HarmanBhanguSry) December 20, 2022
“Monday, I was taking the skytrain at 6:00(pm), my flight was not until 9:00, I got a text from Air Canada saying my flight was canceled,” said Sylvia Masich, a current Burnaby resident who was expecting a 1-hour flight home to Prince George for the holidays.
Thinking quickly, she booked another flight to Fort St. John right away, thinking the four hour drive through the Pine Pass would be better than nothing.
“I waited in the Fort St John gate. It continuously got delayed, delayed, delayed,” she said, adding they were waiting for that plane to arrive from Victoria.
At long last the plane landed, unloaded, and was promptly canceled, alongside almost every other flight coming in or out of the city.
No open seats to Prince George were available until December 23rd, so Masich booked another flight to Fort St John for last night (Tuesday).
“I knew I needed to get to the airport early, because I saw that security was absolutely nuts.”
Once she made it through, she was actually able to land a seat on the earlier Fort St. John flight – almost 24 hours after she was supposed to be home.
“Things were looking good. Our entire crew was here, the pilots were here, the plane was here, we had just watch Victoria board their plane – they were about to leave. We were watching Kamloops, people were walking onto their plane when they announced ‘Kamloops flight has been canceled… Victoria flight has been canceled… Fort St. John flight has been canceled.'”
Despite being announced as canceled, Masich watched the flight headed to Victoria take off from her gate.
Between long lines at airline desks and security, and nearly every flight being grounded in the two-day span, she said frustrations were starting to run high at the airport.
“I’ve hit the point where I am just sad. I want to go home.”
She was starting to wonder if she would see any of her family in town at all.
“I really don’t want to spend my first Christmas without my family this year.”
Cori Ramsay, a Prince George City Councilor, was spending some pre-Christmas vacation time in Hawaii.
After a 56 hour journey home, she told My PG Now that she feels like she needs a “vacation from her vacation.”
Her West Jet flight from Kona, Hawaii, to Calgary on December 18th was delayed by four hours, then canceled.
She was on hold for three and a half hours with West Jet before giving up at around one in the morning.
Airport staff told them “you have emails, you have vouchers, come back at eight in the morning,” before closing shop for the evening.
The only issue was, they did not have emails or vouchers, and the only way they knew about the morning flight was from the desk worker.
When her flight had many empty seats on the trip home, Ramsay suspected others were not properly notified either.
Arriving a little after eight for a 10:00 flight, Ramsay and her travel buddy were stuck in line at customs for over three hours, and then were told their reservation had been dropped from the manifest list, which took more time to be corrected.
“At this point it is almost 11:00, we are running through security, it is an outdoor airport, there is a tropical storm and it is pouring rain, and we get to the terminal, and everyone is sitting down. The plane has not taken off because of mechanical issues.”
Finally arriving in Canada around nine hours later, the West Jet arrivals counter was a couple hundred people long.
After a couple hours waiting they were told the desk would close at 1:00am, before they could check in, so they left for some rest.
“We waited until about 3:30 in the morning, then we went back and stood in line. By this point, there is probably close to 750 people in line… it just kept going and going and there was probably a couple hundred others behind us in line after as well.”
After standing in line for two more hours, and on hold with West Jet for five, they were told it would be five days before they could get a flight to Prince George, and the airline would not be offering any refunds or hotel vouchers.
So, they headed towards car rentals, waited a couple more hours for them to open, and got a car to start the drive home.
They pulled over at Lake Louise where Ramsay joined a video call to still participate in City Council’s finance and audit meeting, then finished the drive.
After arriving at the Kona airport on the 18th, they arrived back in Prince George at around 8:00 December 20th, last night (Wednesday).
“I think overall we had to pay an additional $1000 just to try and get home.”
Ramsay said West Jet told her that it is very unlikely that she will see any of that back, all because the initial flight from Calgary to Kona had weather issues and that is not within their control.
“There are hundreds of people stranded in airports right now, with no help. What do you do with young people who are traveling alone, or accessibility issues?”
Ramsay and her companion were some of the faster travelers to rent vehicles, because soon enough they were out too.
For someone like Masich, who is under 25, renting a vehicle was never an option to begin with.
Posts in Prince George social media circles quickly began to pop up, asking if anyone had managed to rent a car in Vancouver or Calgary who might be headed to the Northern Capital.
“People were graciously Canadian, in that they were like ‘hey, we got a car and are going to Vancouver, does anyone want to hop in with us?'” Ramsay said.
For a time, a group in Prince George were trying to rent a bus to make a round trip to Vancouver, bringing would-be passengers down and bringing more back. That plan fell through when it was faced with insurance issues.
Masich is still making her journey home from Vancouver that started nearly 72 hours ago.
A family member drove down yesterday (December 20) to pick her up, and they are making the return trip this afternoon.
“I don’t know what I would say to Air Canada,” Masich said. “They have kind of screwed me over so many times, I am like… ok. The number of stories that we have of them just canceling our flights, it is actually nuts.”
“There wasn’t a single person in line at the Air Canada line,” said Ramsay. “How is it that Air Canada is not having any issues while West Jet has a lineup a thousand passengers long? Canadians have lost complete faith in West Jet as a company, and it is going to take them a bit of time to rebuild that.”
Prince George’s airport has said they are 100% operational and ready to take flights as soon as Vancouver sends them.