Canadian North passenger says airline abandoned Iqaluit travellers after flight couldn't land

A Canadian North passenger says she's frustrated with the airline after taking an unexpected "tour" of the North. Anne Crawford says the airline told passengers it would return to Ottawa if their plane couldn't land in Iqaluit, but that didn't happen.

Anne Crawford says airline reneged on promise to divert flight back to Ottawa if it couldn't land in Iqaluit

High winds and blowing snow on St. Patrick's Day brought on the third blizzard in two weeks in Iqaluit, cancelling flights. (Nick Murray/CBC)

A Canadian North passenger says she's frustrated with the airline after taking an unexpected "tour" around the North on Thursday. 

Anne Crawford, a lawyer based in Iqaluit, was on a Canadian North flight headed for the Nunavut capital yesterday afternoon.

She says before they boarded in Ottawa, passengers were warned that the plane may not be able to land in Iqaluit due to blizzard conditions. If that happened, they were told the plane would fly back to Ottawa.

Anne Crawford, seen here in Iqaluit last October, says she's frustrated with Canadian North after taking an unexpected 'tour' around the North on Thursday. (Vincent Desrosiers/CBC)

"There were 49 passengers who got on board on that basis," she says.

"I don't think that anyone would've got on board had they actually told us what was going to happen."

Canadian North, which says it is reviewing the incident, cited a miscommunication between the airline and passengers.

Next stop: Rankin Inlet

Crawford says as the aircraft approached Iqaluit, the pilot decided it wasn't safe to land.

The passengers waited for the plane to turn south back to Ottawa, but that didn't happen.

"They announced that we would be going to Rankin Inlet, which took almost everybody on the flight by surprise."

The passengers were met by one Canadian North employee in Rankin Inlet, according to Crawford.

"She was saying…'You will be here for four days at your own expense,'" Crawford says.

There were no hotel rooms available in Rankin Inlet, so Crawford says after about three hours, she and other passengers decided to continue on to Yellowknife. They were told it would also be a four day wait from there for the next flight.

"Four days on our own dime is just not acceptable," Crawford says.

She says people who were holding Canadian North guest passes (for friends and family of employees) were told they couldn't get on the continuing flight, which upset families who were being split up.

"We had people crying in the airport terminal in Rankin."

Crawford says the airline reversed that decision and eventually allowed those passengers to board, prompting more joyful tears on the flight.

Anne Crawford flew about 2,000 km from Ottawa to Iqaluit. When her flight was unable to land in Iqaluit due to a blizzard, she was taken along as the flight continued another 2,000 km to Yellowknife (with a stop in Rankin Inlet, Nunavut) and then another 1,000 km to Edmonton. (CBC)

'You're not a passenger airline anymore'

By this point, Crawford says medical travellers were getting anxious about what they would do next, babies needed diaper changes, and confused Inuktitut and Francophone passengers were relying on other travellers to translate what was happening.

Crawford hoped when they landed in Yellowknife, Canadian North would be more organized than in Rankin Inlet.

"We were just amazed at the utter lack of concern for where passengers were going."

Crawford says no one greeted them at the gate, and there was one ticket agent.

"When you don't have travel agents, you don't have back up, you don't have management coming down, you don't have people meeting people coming off these flights, you're not a passenger airline anymore, you're essentially cargo jockeys.

"Why is it that the passengers are being ferried around like this, as if they were boxes of potatoes?"

'Violates' agreement

Crawford was one of the "fortunate" passengers who were able to continue on to Edmonton. She hopes to get to Iqaluit on Sunday, but says she only has a verbal agreement.

And after the initial broken promise, she's not convinced she'll get home.

"The Northern travellers all take this in stride. You don't land some place, that's OK," she says.

"We were unhappy that we had been told we would return to Ottawa and had not returned to Ottawa, because that violates our blizzard risk agreement."

Canadian North reviewing situation

Peter McCart, the airline's senior vice-president for scheduled services, says flight 436 was never going to go back to Ottawa.

"The plan was always to have the plane divert to Rankin Inlet," he said. "And I believe that's where some of the miscommunication may have happened."

He said the airline's usual policy if there is a possibility the flight may be diverted due to weather is to advise passengers of this before they board and give them the option of either boarding the flight or changing to the next flight. Passengers would be responsible for their own expenses if diverted.

"We understand that some of the passengers may not have been given correct or sufficient information at the time of boarding, which has come to our attention," McCart says.

'We want to make sure our passengers are taken care of,' said Canadian North's Peter McCart. (submitted)

"We are going to be reviewing this entire situation to make sure it is handled better in the future."

McCart apologized to passengers and said the airline will learn lessons from the incident.

"On the communication side, that's an area we will take away and do a better job of communicating this information to passengers."

'Every option would have been looked at'

"I can assure you there was a tremendous amount of work in the background going on to make sure passengers were accommodated," he said.

"Every option would have been looked at, whether it would have been bringing people down to Edmonton then flying them back to Ottawa, bringing them down on Calm Air into Winnipeg, flying on a First Air airplane. All of these options would have been pursued."

McCart says weather disruptions in the North are "part of the business" and a reality the airline faces every day.

He expects most delayed passengers will get to their destinations on the airline's next trans-Arctic flight between Yellowknife and Iqaluit scheduled for Sunday, and he said the airline will cover the cost of accommodation and meal expenses.


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