'Incompetence is incalculable': Airport frustrations sour Canadians' summer travel plans
After years apart, Elizabeth Taliana says she booked a flight for her daughter to fly out from Toronto to Vancouver.
Her daughter only gets one week of vacation from work during the summer.
Even though she made the reservation more than two months ago, Taliana says she only learned recently that her daughter's flight had been cancelled, a trend Canadians are becoming all too familiar with.
"I have not seen my daughter in almost six years, so this is very distressing," Taliana told CTVNews.ca in an email.
Her story is similar to many shared with CTVNews.ca in recent days as cancelled flights, delays and lost luggage throw a wrench in Canadians' summer travel plans, due in part to staffing shortages at Canadian airports.
Some report sleeping at airports due to cancellations and delays. One person, flying from Newfoundland to Vancouver Island, said it took two cancelled flights and an extra day to get home, while his luggage — filled with 70 frozen lobsters — took two days to arrive.
The responses were emailed to CTVNews.ca and have not all been independently verified.
Samantha Van Noy says she lost three pieces of luggage that, at the time she wrote to CTVNews.ca, hadn't arrived in more than eight days.
Flying to Chicago for a tradeshow, Van Noy says her booth materials were in her luggage and the amount of money lost due to her airline's "incompetence is incalculable."
"I tell everyone don't fly unless you absolutely need to right now," she said.
Kimberly Horton, a Canadian living in Austin, Texas, said she bought three tickets in February for herself, her husband and their son to fly to Toronto to visit her family, whom she hasn't seen in three years due to COVID-19.
"What was supposed to be a joyous celebration turned into heartbreak and disappointment," Horton said.
She says the airline placed her husband on standby because the flight was overbooked.
After calling customer service twice, and being on hold for an hour and 40 minutes, she says she was told there was nothing that could be done.
"My husband was denied boarding and my son was crying as we left," she said.
After being asked to check her carry-on luggage due to a lack of overhead compartment space, Horton says her bag never showed up.
"It had all of my valuables, medications, contact lenses, my son's retainers, my Invisalign, etc. Things you need and can't replace on vacation," she said.
She got her bag three days later. Meanwhile, her husband was able to get on another flight, only to have it evacuated due to a fuel spill.
"That was the final breaking point for my husband. He was exhausted of everything and asked for his luggage back. They returned his bags reeking of jet fuel and he headed home cancelling his vacation with us," Horton said.
'PEARSON AIRPORT BRINGS THE WORST OUT OF PEOPLE NOW'
Oksana Klausmann had booked a trip from Toronto to New York City for late June and says after a lengthy check-in process, she and her daughter went through customs only to discover that they were not on the flight manifest, despite having their boarding passes.
From there, she says they were taken to a small room packed with other families, children, and seniors, among others.
She described the room as not having enough seats for everyone, forcing some to sit on the floor, and one small washroom with no soap, toilet paper or paper towels. Klausmann says there were no cups for the water fountain.
Several hours later, they received an email saying their flight was cancelled. An agent then arrived with a pair of police officers confirming the situation.
"What happened next should never happen to my daughter and me. Riot, angry people, screaming, yelling, pushing, and a lot more," she said. "It was unsafe, scary, violent, and hostile. I took my daughter and we tried to leave the room filled with more than 200 or 300 angry people."
Having already booked a hotel and shows in New York, Klausmann says cancelling the trip wasn't an option.
They found a flight with another airline that cost nearly as much as the entire trip. They went through another lengthy check-in process, but eventually made it to New York.
Once back at Toronto Pearson, following a long delay on their return flight, Klausmann says only 15 passengers were allowed to leave the plane at a time due to congestion at customs.
"Believe me that people were not happy about it and some of them started to come forcefully from the back of the plane to be on the front to get off the plane," Klausmann said.
Frustrations only continued as people started waiting for their luggage.
"Pearson Airport brings the worst out of people now, not everyone can stay calm in these circumstances and they put other people at great risk," she said.
"We, two Canadians, a daughter and a mom, going on a trip to have fun and enjoy time together, should never have such an experience. We paid for someone's mistakes and inability to provide service with our own money that could be used for different purposes."
'DEFEATED AND DISCOURAGED'
Lori Veltkamp had planned a three-week trip to Greece with her two daughters. She bought her tickets in January and was scheduled to fly direct from Toronto to Athens in late June.
In anticipation of a busy scene at Pearson, she says she and her daughters arrived more than five hours before their departure time, but were placed on standby and told to wait for their seat assignments at the gate.
Veltkamp says the flight encountered further delays due to the plane's meals arriving late.
Later, she said she was "devastated" to learn that they would not get on the plane because they booked their flights through a third party and "were basically put at the bottom of the list to get off of standby."
"They rushed us off to a gate that was boarding heading to Venice, but it would have an eight-hour layover in Venice before we would fly to Athens," she said.
They managed to catch the flight with the layover in Venice. But five days into their trip, Veltkamp says they still haven't received their three suitcases.
"We are three people with basically no clothes and have had to purchase new things. We are hopeful that we will receive our luggage soon but are feeling very defeated and discouraged by this entire experience," she said.
CANCELLED FLIGHTS AND CALLS FOR CHANGE
After his flight from Prince George, B.C., to Toronto for July was cancelled, Harmolk Brar said he was given an option of cancelling the flight online for a refund.
Opting for this, he says the airline wanted to charge him $150 plus tax in penalties.
"A cancellation penalty for flights that they have already cancelled," he said. "This is the most preposterous thing I've heard of."
Jamie Boulter and her husband had plans to fly from Moncton, N.B., to Hamilton, Ont., in July for a few days.
She received an email saying their flight had been cancelled and that they would receive a follow-up explaining how to get a refund or rebook, potentially flying to Toronto through the airline's sister company instead, which she says would have created more problems since they booked a rental car in Hamilton.
Boulter said her only options were to rebook with the same airline for July 4, the day she was supposed to fly back to New Brunswick, or cancel.
She chose to cancel and was told her refund would be less than half of what she originally paid. Boulter said she has tried unsuccessfully to reach someone from the airline by phone, an online contact form and social media.
"I had paid for three nights at a hotel and it was non-refundable by the point I learned my flight was cancelled. I also paid for concert tickets to two shows, which were non-refundable," she said.
"The concert was a two-night performance of my favourite band, playing their first album in its entirety on the 20th anniversary of that album, in their hometown. This experience was going to be huge for me. I'm so soured by this experience."
While Pearson has seen some of the worst travel experiences so far this year, Richard Vanderlubbe, an Association of Canadian Travel Agencies director and president of tripcentral.ca, says delays at larger airports can cascade to smaller ones.
"It's one of those things that's like a tightly tuned drumhead. There's not much slack in the system," he told CTV News Channel on Saturday.
"If you have a pilot or a crew that calls in sick, and people are still getting sick, the airline has to scramble to find a qualified pilot for that aircraft. And by the time they get a hold of somebody, it is a matter of changing the pilots on different routes in order to make this happen and to have less impact on the connections."
Ultimately, he says it isn't much fun for the airlines either, who have to bear the cost of delivering lost luggage by courier to people's homes.
In response to "customer service shortfalls," Air Canada last month announced it would reduce flights in July and August.
A spokesperson for the company said it would reduce its schedule by 154 flights per day on average for those two months, with the most affected routes expected to be to and from Toronto and Montreal.
Prior to that, Air Canada operated approximately 1,000 flights per day.
Vanderlubbe said while reasonable, the Air Canada reductions will affect people's future travel plans, with fares possibly going up as a result.
"I'm hopeful that as that unfolds, we're going to see less of this and by the time we hit further into the summer and perhaps Labour Day, it's hopefully gone," he said.
With files from CTV News