Toronto Pearson airport boss admits 'we dropped the ball'

Greater Toronto Airport Authority CEO Howard Eng apologizes to travellers, admitting airport officials did a poor job when Canada's largest airport was shut down to arriving flights earlier this week.

Greater Toronto Airport Authority CEO sorry for how shutdown was handled during weather problems

Passengers at Toronto's Pearson International Airport were stranded for hours on Tuesday when weather-related problems shut down the airport to incoming flights. (David Donnelly/CBC News)

Greater Toronto Airport Authority CEO Howard Eng apologized today to passengers, admitting airport officials did a poor job Tuesday morning when Canada's largest airport was shut down to arriving flights, leaving passengers stranded for hours.

"I think we dropped the ball and we'll fix it," Eng said on CBC Radio's Metro Morning. "I apologize to all the passengers that were affected and the frustration they encountered."

Some 600 flights were cancelled Tuesday when temperatures in the –25 C range caused equipment problems and raised safety concerns for ground crews.

The weather led to long delays in processing incoming flights. The backlog quickly caused a traffic jam on the tarmac and a shortage of gate space.

Passengers sat in planes for hours — up to five hours in some cases — after flights landed. To clear the backlog the airport ordered a ground stop, essentially shutting down Canada's largest airport to arriving flights. That had a cascading effect, leaving some passengers stranded days later.

When passengers did eventually deplane, many waited hours for luggage to arrive. Some passengers were seen sleeping on the airport floor as unclaimed luggage piled up.

Lack of communication

Eng and airport officials came under fire for a lack of communication about the delays. Eng told Galloway he was managing the crisis by phone from Edmonton, where he was on a business trip.

"I was kept informed with staff and on the phone with them as the crisis unfolded."

When asked why he didn't speak publicly about the crisis until two days after it happened, Eng said his primary focus was to "stabilize" the situation at the airport.

"We will revamp our communication procedure and we'll do better next time," he said.

Eng said he approved the decision to call the ground stop, which he said was made with input from the airlines and Nav Canada, which oversees air traffic control.

A common complaint from passengers on Tuesday was a lack of staff to provide updates about their flights upon arriving at Pearson.

Galloway asked Eng why more staff weren't working when the weather forecast called for extreme cold temperatures.

"The volume of demand was above what was expected. There's no excuse," he said.

Eng mentioned the GTAA will conduct a "no-holds-barred" review with its staff and the airlines on how the situation was handled and how to prevent it from happening again.

"We will work with all our partners to improve the process," he said.

He said GTAA staff are helping passengers rebook their flights, and move on to their destinations.


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