Winter Weather Wreaks Havoc: Massive Cancellations in Canada & U.S.

Image courtesy of United Airlines on Twitter.
Image courtesy of United Airlines on Twitter.

Mother Nature is wreaking havoc on travel plans for many Canadians and Americans.

A polar vortex that moved into the Canadian prairies forced hundreds of airline cancellations on the weekend, and the problems are continuing as the work week begins.

A major winter storm also grounded around 80% of all flights in and out of BUF airport in Western New York on the weekend.

WestJet said extremely low temperatures on the prairies “rendered de-icing fluid ineffective” in Calgary, Edmonton, Saskatoon, Regina, Kelowna, Kamloops, Fort McMurray, Prince George, Grande Prairie, Yellowknife and Fort St. John.

According to WestJet’s website, it was forced to cancel 153 flights on 13JAN and 120 flights on 14 JAN. FlightAware.com reports 70 WestJet and WestJet Encore flights have been cancelled as of 9 a.m. EST on15JAN.

FlightAware said 104 departures were scrubbed out of YYC on the weekend, along with 122 scheduled arrivals. For YEG, the website showed 41 cancelled departures and 34 cancelled arrivals.

A Friday night storm in Toronto also forced a few flights to YYZ to be diverted to other airports.

“We sincerely thank our guests for their ongoing patience as our teams and partners on the ground, in the air and behind the scenes work tirelessly, battling frigid temperatures, to ensure a safe operation,” David Powell, WestJet Vice-President, Airports, said in a news release. “Your travel plans are extremely important to us, and we are committed to providing timely and proactive communication as we work to restore our operations as the weather forecast evolves.”

“We sincerely apologize to guests who have been impacted by cancellations and delays, resulting from ongoing extreme cold temperatures affecting Canada’s prairie region,” WestJet said in a statement on their website. “With Calgary, AB as WestJet’s main hub and the majority of our operations based in Western Canada, the effects of four consecutive days of frigid temperatures are having a compounding impact on our operations, our crew and partners who are battling these conditions to maintain our network.

“Our Guest Support teams are working diligently to provide reaccommodation options to all impacted guests as quickly as possible; however, due to the continued severe weather, options remain limited.”

WestJet said Flexible Change/Cancel guidelines have been announced for guests travelling to or from Alberta, Saskatchewan and Manitoba between 11JAN and 15JAN.

“In an effort to assist those with imminent travel plans, we ask guests to refrain from contacting us until 72 hours in advance of their flight; this allows us to ensure we prioritizing immediate travel support for those who are closest to their travel date.”

CTV News reports the airline has curtailed the amount of time its crews spend working outside and that temperatures were so cold that they were affecting the efficiency of the airline’s de-icing fluid.

It also said the cancellations left a number of passengers bewildered and unable to reach their destinations.

Arslan Zahid saw his flight from Regina Friday afternoon cancelled and had to book his own hotel for the night. On Saturday, he spent a few hours in line trying to find a new flight.

"I don’t know if I’m stuck here for a few days or until when,” he said.

The Weather Network is calling for a high of -18 in Calgary on 15JAN, a vast improvement from the weekend. Similar temperatures are forecast for this week, but temperatures should then rise to around the freezing mark for a substantial period of time.

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