Halifax passengers stranded by Air Canada walkout
Anger as help number goes unanswered
A wildcat strike by Air Canada staff in Toronto is causing delays and cancellations at the Halifax Stanfield International Airport.
The stoppage by ground crews and baggage handlers in Toronto delayed or cancelled at least seven flights in Halifax, causing major travel disruptions Friday morning.
The job action began Thursday evening and left hundreds of Toronto passengers in limbo after they had to disembark from several flights already on the tarmac and head back to the terminal.
Dave Howley of Glace Bay was travelling with friends and business colleagues to take in a Montreal Canadiens home game. He arrived at the Halifax airport Friday morning, only to find his flight cancelled.
Air Canada staff told him to make other arrangements and gave him a number to call for help.
"Nobody ever answered the phone," he said.
He and his group of seven tried to book another flight, but couldn't find seats. "It's not going to happen," he said.
Howley said whatever the root of the problem is, Air Canada is handling it badly.
"Don't leave us standing in the airport, everyone jockeying and scurrying, trying to get other arrangements," he said. "They have no reason just to leave us high and dry."
'Sick to my stomach'
Matt Sampson was going to the same game. "It's not looking like that is going to happen," he said. He arrived early and was told it was "business as usual," and so checked his luggage.
He was told there would be a ten-minute delay, but ten minutes before boarding the flight was cancelled.
"It's really none of my business, as far as the inner workings of a company, but the thing these people have to think about are the people who spend their hard-earned money to buy $250 hockey tickets, rent hotel rooms. They'll hopefully reimburse us for the flight, but what about all the other stuff?" he said.
"I feel sick to my stomach. This is probably the last time I use Air Canada."
Band may miss big chance
Brian Page of the band Andrew Hunter and the Gatherers was heading to a Toronto music festival at Canadian Music Week. His flight was cancelled and he was unable to find another way to Toronto.
"This is more than just us not getting to Toronto. This could be a huge break for us that we'll miss out on and won't be compensated for. There's nothing you can do to get it back." he said. "And all this might not happen because of an illegal work stoppage."
Nova Scotia Premier Darrell Dexter was among the many passengers waiting at the Halifax airport. He is travelling to the federal NDP's leadership convention in Toronto.
He wasn't the only politician delayed by the stoppage. Early Friday morning, federal Treasury Board president Tony Clement said his flight from Halifax had been delayed by two hours.
"Then we sat on the tarmac for about another hour or hour and a half. Now I don't have my bag," he said. "I think anybody who uses illegal job action to make their point is actually hurting their own cause. It's a huge inconvenience for the travelling public…. You can't illegally take your frustrations out on management and inconvenience the travelling public."
A spokeswoman for Air Canada, Isabelle Arthur, said Friday morning that it would seek a back-to-work order. In the meantime, she said, "We’re putting in place a flexible rebooking policy, so customers can make changes without penalties."
She confirmed that the illegal job action by ramp employees was causing delays and cancellation.
"We are asking customers to check status of their flights."
Air Canada obtained the injunction mid-day Friday and Toronto workers began to return to their jobs.
Raitt 'applause' led to suspensions
The CBC's Redmond Shannon reported from the Toronto airport that the walkout followed an incident involving Labour Minister Lisa Raitt, who had been applauded sarcastically by some Air Canada workers as she walked through the airport earlier in the evening.
At least three workers were then suspended by Air Canada, according to workers demonstrating outside the terminal, prompting the walkout. Workers at Pearson have told CBC News their job action will last for 72 hours, the length of the suspension.
Air Canada has been plagued with labour troubles over the last year. The airline and its pilots and mechanics have been in a bitter contract feud that prompted the federal government to recently step in with legislation banning strikes or lockouts at the airline.
The government also used back-to-work legislation during Air Canada's contract dispute with customer service and sales staff last June.
In this case, the labour minister's office says she won't intervene, calling the dispute an internal matter for the airline.