Passengers are fuming after delayed, cancelled flights at Pearson due to runway revamp

The revamping of one of the country's busiest runways at Toronto's Pearson International Airport has caused flight delays, cancellations and confusion among passengers; many of whom say they've been given little notice or information from airlines and the Greater Toronto Airports Authority.

The GTAA expects the project to be finished before the busy summer travel season

Leila Khalil had her flight delayed by 48 hours and said she received little help from airport officials or Air Canada. (Petar Valkov/CBC News)

The revamping of one of the country's busiest runways at Toronto's Pearson International Airport has caused flight delays, cancellations and confusion among passengers; many of whom say they've been given little notice or information from airlines and the Greater Toronto Airports Authority (GTAA). 

Airlines were warned about disruptions prior to construction but passengers said they've been kept in the dark about resulting delays and cancellations and are getting little help. 

"We've been here a day and a half stranded and we're expecting to be here for another two days," said Leila Khalil, a passenger travelling from Pittsburgh to Dublin, with the connecting flight to take off from Pearson. 

The GTAA's construction project on Runway 05-23 has been going on since late March. Crews are laying down a new surface along with the series of re-bar dowels.

It is one of the airport's biggest projects since 2005 and the GTAA says it expects it to be finished before the busy summer travel season. 

"This is our longest's necessary to keep the runway safe. The surface is very important for aircraft that are landing and taking off," said Shabeen Hanifa, the senior communications adviser with the GTAA. 

The GTAA said it warned airlines ahead of time of the disruption to come. (Trevor Dunn/CBC)

Meantime, Khalil and her partner John Newell said their flight was delayed twice during their layover, forcing them to miss a connecting flight to Dublin. The couple were told by Air Canada that the delays were out of the airline's control due to the runway repairs. 

To further compound the problem, Newell was also told the next available flight was in 48 hours and Air Canada would provide a hotel voucher for only one night's stay. 

"The burden's on us to foot the bill and then go through the process of submitting our receipts [to Air Canada]. That's a risk I'm not really enthused about taking," Newell said. 

Passengers said their flights have been delayed for days as Pearson Airport officials and airlines sort their way through runway construction. (Gary Deol/Submitted)

They aren't the only ones left feeling helpless. 

Dareatte Pinder, who was flying from Halifax to the Bahamas, with a connecting flight through Pearson, told CBC Toronto she will also reach her destination two days late because of another delay caused by the runway's construction. 

She said she's asked questions of customer service at Pearson and Air Canada, with neither side taking responsiblity for the delay. 

"If it's not the airport's fault and it's not the airline's fault, then is it my fault as the consumer?" Pinder asked. 

"How is it possible that no one has said, 'Let's have a plan in place for these delays?'" 

Who is to blame?

The GTAA and Nav Canada, the private, not-for-profit company responsible for managing Canada's civil air navigation system, said airlines had been notified before construction began that disruptions were expected. 

"There's a certain number of aircraft that can come in each hour and that can take off each hour," said Hanifa, who added that airlines are responsible for adjusting how many flights are scheduled per day. 

The GTAA said it has not kept track of how many flights have been delayed or cancelled as a result of the runway project. 

But Air Canada and WestJet said the disruptions described to them have gone beyond what was expected. 

"At the outset of this project no reductions in capacity (arrivals and departures) were planned by the GTAA or Nav Canada and air carriers operating in and out of YYZ did not significantly adjust their schedules to reduce capacity," WestJet wrote in a statement to customers. 

And Air Canada said: "Some of our flights have been delayed or cancelled to meet the GTAA's limit on numbers of flights operating."

Both airlines said they are expecting delays to continue until the project is finished and are changing their flight schedules to reduce demand on Pearson airport. 

More problems with bad weather

Delays of late have been made worse with a factor neither the GTAA nor the airlines can control: inclement weather. 

Toronto has seen days of heavy rain in late April into early May, with another 70 millimetres expected by Saturday. 

"Unseasonable weather has really affected what was projected for the month," Hanifa said. She added that crews have had to pump water out of some areas to continue with construction.

Despite the rainfall, the GTAA expects construction to finish on time on May 16. 

The second phase of rebuilding the runway is expected to start in October.