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Cold Weather creates havoc on air Travel for everyone

Passengers battle cold weather to reach destinations
Passengers battle cold weather to reach destinations
Jim Morrison

“My preference is to be late, but safe”

Check in at Pierre Elliott Trudeau airport
Jim Morrison

Dorval is Canada’s fourth busiest airport behind Vancouver, Toronto, and Calgary. It has more then 200 000 annual flights, and welcomed its 14 millionth passenger on December 30, but the recent stretch of frozen temperatures created havoc amongst passengers and airport employees alike.

Cold weather at the airport means delays, cancellations, and disgruntled employees. It’s challenging for everyone. Passengers are stressed, flight crews, and airport employees, are living minute-by-minute waiting for flights to arrive, and the ground crews are frozen solid.

Several members of Montreal International Airport’s operations staff talked to The Suburban on condition of anonymity, about the impact of the extreme weather.

“It’s minus 40 with the wind-chill, and the airport ramp guys are outside for hours on end in that kind of weather. Airport employees know what they are doing. Other factors include planes not leaving because of inclement weather at their destination. Some passengers pay their money and they don’t understand why they are delayed” said a ramp agent, who just finished a 12-hour shift.

There are three factors which allow planes to take off. The first is permission from NavCan, which handles 12 million aircraft movements annually, making it the second largest air navigation service, worldwide, by traffic volume. Second, Canadian air regulations prohibit takeoff when frost, ice, or snow adheres to any critical surface of the aircraft. Third, the field conditions change by the minute.

“The flash freeze is the most difficult challenge, as you are dealing with 100, 000 lb aircrafts on runways which are 200 ft across. The bigger the aircraft, the bigger the width that is needed” a specialist in field maintenance at Pearson Airport, told The Suburban.

“I recently returned from an overseas flight and upon arrival at the tarmac, it looked like a skating rink. Nothing appeared to move more quickly than at a snails pace. It took us over two hours to reach our gate due to the conditions upon our arrival. It wasn't necessarily the cold, although it does slow things down, rather the rain, sleet, and freezing rain that happened the day before. The deep freeze froze everything before it could be cleaned up, making ground movement of aircraft almost impossible.”

“Polar bears are the only things that I know of that seem to work better, in the cold, snow, and ice. Sometimes the traveling public has trouble understanding why or how the weather affects air travel. When people heading to the airport have to leave earlier than usual because of the weather and road conditions, they must warm up their car, brush off all the snow and ice, and load their car on an icy driveway.”

“Airplanes are vehicles too and are not immune from these same conditions. At the end of the day, delays and cancellations are made in the best interest and safety of the ground crew, flight crew and most importantly the passengers” said an industry pilot.

“I was shocked that my flight was not cancelled but because it was going to Florida, they didn’t cancel the flights because they were fully booked for a few days afterwards, and that would have ruined people’s holidays. I can’t say too much about it, as with extreme weather, one has to expect delays.” Toronto resident, Sandy Steffan, who flies 60, 000 miles a year, told The Suburban.

“I was flying to Los Angeles,(LAX) for three days before venturing off to Costa Rica. Four cancelled flights and stops in Ottawa, an overnight stay in Edmonton, then Vancouver and Los Angeles. (LAX) I was in Los Angeles for dinner in order to catch my flight to Costa Rica from LAX the next morning. I flew across the country for dinner only to return to the other side of the country the next morning! I was rebooked for Tuesday, but I went to the airport and waited in line, for hours on Monday, to make sure I got out of Montreal any way possible, in order to catch my flight to Costa Rica, Wednesday morning from Los Angeles.” said Montreal resident Caprice Abbey of her whirlwind travels.

There is no upside to the challenges that cold weather bring, to air travel.

“My preference is to be late, but safe” added Steffan as she was boarding her flight to the Arctic.