Their Mexican vacation was a dream. The voyage home, though, was a nightmare

A relaxing vacation to Cancun, Mexico, soon turned into a harrowing experience for a western Newfoundland couple when their flight home was cancelled and delayed for an entire week.

'We know travel disruptions are very disappointing,' Air Canada says

A man and a woman standing under a canopy on a patio.
Michelle and Paul Barter of Port aux Basques, N.L., took a vacation to Cancun, Mexico, last month. (Submitted by Michelle Barter)

A relaxing vacation to Cancun, Mexico, soon turned into a frustrating experience for a Port aux Basques couple when their flight home was cancelled and delayed for an entire week.

What was supposed to be a two-hour flight ended up costing Michelle and Paul Barter a whole week of travel time. Their flight from Montreal to Deer Lake, in western Newfoundland, was cancelled not once, but four times in a row, and then delayed for another three days after that. 

Michelle Barter said the fourth cancellation in as many days was too much for her to handle.

"I was in shock, disbelief. I was crying," said Barter.

Staffing issues and chaotic conditions across Canadian airports made rerouting to different airports a risky endeavour. Barter says booking agents advised against attempting a reroute to get home faster, as flying to Toronto to get to Deer Lake could trigger a whole new cycle of problems. 

Asked to respond to the Barters' experience, Air Canada replied with a statement that generally acknowledged the recent widespread dysfunction in Canadian air travel.

"The global air transport industry is currently challenged due to issues with airports and third-party providers of such services as passenger screening, customs, and air navigation," reads the statement.

"We know travel disruptions are very disappointing and frustrating for our customers, and deeply regret when these situations arise. We can assure you we are working hard with our industry partners and governments to resolve these issues that are affecting our performance."

Dozens of suitcases and other luggage sit stacked up in Montreal airport.
Michelle and Paul Barter saw scenes of chaos and disorganization during five days at Montreal-Pierre Elliott Trudeau International Airport. (Submitted by Michelle Barter)

Barter says she and her husband were on their own when it came time to find a place to sleep in Montreal, a city unfamiliar to them.

They managed to get hotel rooms that cost them at least $300 per night.  All expenses like hotel stays, meals and taxis landed on the couple's credit cards, totalling nearly $3,000 during the unexpected travel time.

'I'm forever changed by this experience'

After the fourth cancellation, Barter said, they had had enough. They booked a new flight from Montreal to Sydney, N.S., and then took the Marine Atlantic ferry to their home in Port aux Basques.

Barter says the booking to fly from Montreal to Deer Lake couldn't be cancelled, leaving the couple on the hook to pay for two different flights home each. 

Barter says the emotional distress of the whole ordeal has left her with an anxiety hangover that's difficult to shake. 
"I think I'm forever changed by this experience," said Michelle Barter. 

"Even the text message sound on my phone invokes a panic in me," she said, adding that text messages about flight delays and cancellations put her severely on edge during their travels.

A man and a woman sitting on a bench on the beach in Cancun, Mexico.
The Barters enjoyed their Mexican vacation, up until they got bogged down by flight cancellations in Montreal. (Submitted by Michelle Barter )

Their vehicle, and all their luggage, wouldn't be collected for another three days, when Paul could arrange for a ride to take him to Deer Lake, over 250 kilometres away. Paul's suitcase full of clothes arrived soaking wet and musty, according to Michelle.

More than once, says Barter, she was told by Air Canada booking staff that the airline would reimburse her and her husband for extra expenses caused by the cancellations, saying she had nothing to worry about. 

Thus far, the only correspondence they've received from Air Canada has been in automatic replies. Barter sent complaints to the airline's online flight disruptions portal, and was met with e-mails saying the complaints would be dealt with within 30 days.

"Right now I have no desire to travel anywhere that requires a flight," said Barter.

Read more from CBC Newfoundland and Labrador


James Grudić


James Grudić is a reporter with Newfoundland Morning, and is based in Corner Brook, N.L.

Add some “good” to your morning and evening.

A variety of newsletters you'll love, delivered straight to you.

Sign up now