Intense cold causes chaos for air travellers

Extremely cold temperatures are wreaking havoc for travellers trying to get in and out of Manitoba.
ExpressJet, a partner of United Airlines, has cancelled most of its flights from Winnipeg, as extremely cold temperatures wreak havoc for travellers trying to get in and out of Manitoba. 2:06

Extremely cold temperatures are wreaking havoc for travellers trying to get in and out of Manitoba.

ExpressJet, a partner of United Airlines, has cancelled most of its flights from Winnipeg. It has also cancelled several more throughout the United States, which is also facing record-setting cold weather.

At least one Air Canada flight from Winnipeg to Toronto was also cancelled while numerous other flights, international and domestic, were delayed.

According to United, 55 of its flights have been cancelled in and out of Winnipeg since Dec. 30, with 10 flights affected on Monday alone.

Passengers wait at the United Airlines desk at the Winnipeg airport on Monday, with many dealing with cancelled flights. (Jillian Coubrough/CBC)
A spokesperson with ExpressJet told CBC News last week, when the company cancelled some flights, that the decision was due to low temperatures and ice crystals exceeding safe operating guidelines for their aircraft.

But Rick Erickson, an aviation analyst based out of Calgary, doesn't buy that excuse.

"This is not a safety issue with the aircraft itself, in that all of its systems are operating, because airplanes perform far, far better in cold weather,” he said.

“The air is denser, there's more air for the engines to be able to create power with, and there's more lift off the wings."

Most Canadian airlines are equipped with proper heating to keep the planes warm overnight, Erickson said, adding that might not be the case for all American carriers because of cost factors.

"Being a very large player in the United States, of course, they're used to — even in the winter months, of course — operating in temperatures much, much warmer than we have here in Canada," he said.

"So it's probably got more to do with those kinds of decisions that get made on a company-wide basis."

The airline has also said at one point that it was too cold in Winnipeg to de-ice aircraft.

On Monday, United officials said the cancellations were due to bad weather in the East and Midwest as well as in Winnipeg.

Travellers seek solutions

Dean Smallwood said he and his family were halfway home from Belize when they had to spend 14 hours in Denver, trying to rebook a flight to Winnipeg that had been cancelled.

"There was just no way to get back into Winnipeg — not through Chicago, Minneapolis, any Canadian city," he said Monday.

"She was even willing to fly us somewhere fun for a few days if she could. We couldn't find any seats."

Finally, Smallwood hopped on a flight to Fargo, N.D., and rented a car and drove his family home instead.

"We had no winter clothing," he recalled. "I was wearing Birkenstocks and a pair of socks."

Smallwood said he got two $7 meal vouchers, and he will receive compensation for his rental car.

Tara O'Connor was supposed to fly home to London, England, on Monday but was stuck in Winnipeg because of the problems with United Airlines.

O'Connor found out Sunday her flights were cancelled and she spent five hours on hold, waiting to re-book. She was able to trade for a flight on Air Canada on Wednesday but she'll have a five-hour layover in Montreal.

That is, if that flight goes.

"Fingers crossed — fingers and toes. I really, really hope so because if I don't then the situation gets that much worse," she said.

Winnipeg Sun sports reporter Paul Friesen has also been left in the lurch by a cancelled United flight. He was covering the Jets hockey game in Pittsburgh on Sunday and was supposed to fly home on Monday. Friesen said he still doesn't know why his flight was cancelled.

"I wish they would just come out and say what their problem is instead of leaving all their travellers scrambling because the Boston airport going to Pittsburgh Sunday morning was just an absolute zoo with people trying to make up for cancelled flights," he said.


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