Nfld. & Labrador

More frequent flyers: Apollo travellers want faster air service when sailings cancelled

Trent O'Brien says five days is too long to wait for alternative transportation when the ferry is grounded.

'Here in Labrador, we just like to feel that we are being treated the same as other parts of the province'

Trent O'Brien says Labrador isn't getting the same treatment as other parts of the province when it comes to alternative transportation. (Submitted)

The president of the Combined Councils of Labrador says stranded MV Apollo travellers should not have to wait five days before the province calls in air service — since other ferry users don't have to wait that long. 

"If you look at what goes on in other parts of this province — which is Fogo Island or Bell Island — when their service can't operate, flights are put on sometimes as early as the day service ceases," said Trent O'Brien.

"Here in Labrador we just like to feel that we are being treated the same as other parts of the province and getting the same level of service."

The Apollo is supposed to provide a daily service from Blanc Sablon in Quebec to St. Barbe on the Northern Peninsula, a journey of one hour and 45 minutes when all goes well.

But O'Brien recounted his recent travels that saw him arrive in St. Barbe last Friday morning, and the next crossing didn't happen for another three days. High winds were the problem, but heavy ice is often a factor, too. 

Whatever the cause, patience is wearing thin, said O'Brien.

"People are missing the opportunity to get home for different reasons. Some are missing time that they are supposed to be at work, some are racking up costly hotel bills and meal bills by being stuck in the hotel over there waiting on the boat," he told CBC Radio's Labrador Morning.

"So yeah, the frustration tends to grow pretty quickly."

He said air service doesn't kick in until after the Apollo has missed five days of consecutive crossings — a threshold that is too high. 

"I've heard politicians say over the last couple of years, over the last year or so, that that's better than anything the former government did for us. Which, yeah, OK, we never got flights under any government. But five days, it's still far far too much."

It doesn't appear that the timeline will change any time soon.

"A lot can happen within five days in the Strait of Belle Isle, such as a change in weather and ice pressure and the arrival of an ice breaker, all which can allow the vessel to sail again," reads a statement from the Department of Transportation and Works. 

Alternate port

O'Brien pointed to an alternative port in Corner Brook that could be helpful. 

"I think that the contractor, government and coast guard have to step up and start using that port more often," he said.

Ice has thwarted the MV Apollo multiple times, including on Jan. 23. (Submitted by Pam Penney)

But that's not meant for regular use, insisted government.

"The alternate port for the Apollo in Corner Brook is used only as a last resort, and can pose travel challenges for passengers headed to St. Anthony for medical appointments and other business," a spokesperson for the Department of Transportation and Works said in an email. 

"The department works to provide supplementary air transportation services to vessels throughout the province on a case-by-case basis. In some cases, those services are put into place on the same day."

That's little comfort to O'Brien and other stranded passengers, who "have a tendency to come together and have pretty frank conversations about it," he said.

"Everyone you talk to is sharing the same level of frustration."

With files from Labrador Morning