Flight changes, cancellations causing chaos for Fort McMurray travellers

Air Canada's suspension of its direct Fort McMurray-Toronto flight is causing chaos and stress among travellers, and some say they won't be using the airline again in the future.

One resident's flights have been changed 11 times since she booked them in February

Air Canada has temporarily suspended the direct flight from Fort McMurray to Toronto. (Geoff Robins/AFP/Getty Images)

Air Canada's suspension of its direct Fort McMurray-Toronto flight is causing chaos and stress among travellers, and some say they won't be using the airline again in the future.

Nathalie Berthelot says her flights have been changed nearly a dozen times. She's trying to get back home to New Richmond, Que., to see her siblings and parents for the first time in three years.

Originally, her travel plans had her stopping in Toronto and Montreal and ending in Bathurst, N.B.

She booked her flight in February, with the first change coming on April 28.

In her original flight schedule, Berthelot made sure she had long layovers. She planned a 24-hour layover in Montreal so she could visit her aunt. 

That plan included the direct flight from Fort McMurray to Toronto, which was cancelled.

"I was devastated," said Berthelot. "I just started crying, because I miss my mom, my family and I want to go back."

She typically visits her family every year, she said.

"It's my therapy."

Last week, Air Canada announced it will cut dozens of daily flights this summer as it grapples with a series of challenges and soaring demand for travel.

The airline will reduce its schedule by 77 round trips — or 154 flights — on average, each day during July and August.

In an email, Air Canada said the route between Toronto and Fort McMurray has been temporarily suspended. 

"We fully appreciate the disappointment and inconvenience schedule changes cause customers, and we do our utmost to mitigate these regrettable situations," the statement said. 

Flight cancellations frustrate Fort McMurray travellers

3 months ago
Duration 2:13
With Air Canada cancelling its direct flight to Toronto from Fort McMurray for two months, many are scrambling to make new travel arrangements.

Passengers are notified when flights are cancelled, and they are rebooked if possible. 

"Customers can also request a refund to original form of payment at any time and where compensation is due Air Canada will abide by its [Air Passenger Protection Regulations] obligations," the statement said.

Berthelot said her last cancellation was a surprise, as she didn't get an email notification.

She just happened to check on her reservation and found it wasn't there anymore. She said she spent 3.5 hours on hold waiting to talk to someone from Air Canada. 

She said she wakes up in the night to check that her flight is still going. 

"I kind of don't trust them," Berthelot said, adding that this will likely be the last time she flies with Air Canada. 

She's asking people who don't need to travel not to get on a plane.

"Give a chance to the people that really need to."

Danielle Danis holding a photo of her family. She has been dealing with flight cancellations and has spent hours on the phone trying to change her flights. (Jamie Malbeuf/CBC)

Danielle Danis, another Fort McMurray resident, has several trips booked. All of them have been plagued by schedule changes and cancellations.

"They tell you when you get the email to go online to try and change it yourself, but … you can never get through online." 

She has a trip to Portugal booked with her niece, and another trip to Timmins, Ont., to see her family so she can bring her husband's ashes to a memorial.

His celebration of life is scheduled for Aug. 6. Her father-in-law hasn't had the opportunity to get closure yet. 

"It's not like I'm missing a funeral, we are part of the funeral," said Danis. 

Danis said she has spent about 24 hours on hold with Air Canada for all of the flights. 

Her new booking includes overnight stays, where she'll have to pay for a hotel. 

"I'm very frustrated with the additional cost, with the stress level," Danis said. 

She's still crossing her fingers that she can get to her destinations. She's had no compensation for the changes to her trip or for the hotel costs.

"I hope it gets better soon for everyone." 

Dianna De Sousa, executive director for the Fort McMurray Chamber of Commerce, said the initial impact of the cancellations has been chaotic. Right now she sees this as a bigger barrier to personal travel than business travel. 

The chamber's trade show sales are still strong. And De Sousa expects more people to drive to Fort McMurray rather than fly.

She said more people may take staycations instead of flying out of Fort McMurray, or they may choose to drive to bigger centres to take flights.


Jamie Malbeuf is a reporter with CBC News, based in Fort McMurray. She started her career with CBC in 2017, after graduating from MacEwan University with a major in journalism. She covers a range of topics including health, justice and housing. Follow her on Twitter @JamieMalbeuf. Send story ideas to jamie.malbeuf@cbc.ca.


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