Air Canada started sending stranded passengers on their way Thursday morning after a wildcat strike by ground crew workers delayed 60 flights and led to the cancellation of 19 others in Toronto Wednesday night.

Thousands of passengers were affected, in Toronto and at other airports with flights scheduled to travel to Pearson International Airport, including Vancouver, Winnipeg, Edmonton, Montreal and Halifax.

The airline has apologized for the delays the passengers suffered.

The four-hour work stoppage shut down Air Canada's operations at Pearson at about 4 p.m. EST.

Passengers expecting to fly out milled around Terminal 1 waiting for information, until Air Canada announcements citing "operational delays" told them to go home or find hotels for the night.

Travellers who had already boarded airplanes waiting to take off were stuck in their seats for hours, watching movies and being supplied with snacks, according to a CBC Radio reporter from Saskatchewan who was on one of the planes.

"They've handed out some nuts and people in first class are getting some wine service as well, so they're treating everybody very well," said Ted Deller.

Similarly, people on planes that had just landed when the dispute began were not able to get off because no ground workers were available to move disembarking equipment into place or unload luggage.

Dispute over time card habits

The dispute involved how workers were clocking in and out for their shifts.

Air Canada had accused some workers of time card abuse, saying they were checking in and out of work on behalf of colleagues who were either arriving late, leaving early, or not showing up at all for their shifts.

The workers claimed they had been swiping electronic time cards on behalf of other workers with a supervisor's permission.

Their union, the International Association of Machinists and Aerospace Workers, said it did not support the walkout. Representing about 11,000 workers, it is the airline's single biggest union.

The dispute was brought to an end just after 8 p.m. when the airline agreed the workers would not be disciplined.

Scheduled international flights took off after the negotiated end to the walkout, but flights travelling to destinations within Canada and the United States did not proceed.

Air Canada expected to spend Thursday finding seats on existing flights for the affected passengers.

Customers were told to check the airline's website or call ahead to check on the status of their flights.