Windsor·First Person

Cancellations, baggage woes and delays: A CBC reporter's journey to and from Windsor

CBC Windsor videojournalist Jacob Barker knew about the situation with delays and cancellations to and from Windsor, but it didn't hit home until he experienced it first hand.

There were several cancellations on the board this week for travel between Windsor and Toronto

A lineup at the Pearson airport customer service desk after many cancellations.
It was a long wait in the lineup at the customer service desk at Toronto Pearson International Airport Sunday, which at times, was only staffed by one worker. (Jacob Barker/CBC)

I heard about the situation with air travel delays and cancellations across the country, but it didn't hit home until I experienced it first hand.

"We're sorry as part of your itinerary has changed due to crew constraints resulting from the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on our operations," an email from Air Canada read the day before my scheduled trip to Vancouver to visit family.

I had planned to fly out of Windsor International Airport to Toronto on June 17, and then on to Vancouver the same day.

However, my initial flight to Toronto Pearson International Airport was cancelled and rebooked for the next day.

Reporter Jacob Barker looking tired on a train.
Videojournalist Jacob Barker on his final leg back to Windsor aboard a VIA Rail train. (Jacob Barker/CBC)

I eventually made it and enjoyed my time with family for a week, but things took a turn for the worse on the way back. 

This time, it was the connections into Windsor from Toronto that were problematic. 

The trip to Windsor was cancelled upon arrival in Toronto due to mechanical issues with the aircraft. After a long wait in the customer service line surrounded by other grumpy people missing connections, I was given a hotel room to wait for a second flight the next day at the same time.

That was cancelled as well.

A cancellation email from Air Canada
One of three cancellation emails Barker received on the way to and from Toronto from Windsor. (Jacob Barker/CBC)

Being scheduled for work, I informed Air Canada I would not need a further flight and booked the four hour train ride aboard VIA Rail in order to get me back to Windsor a little late for my evening shift. 

My bag, which I had abandoned in Toronto, arrived in Windsor the next day.

Others in the same boat, or should I say plane?

Following this travel experience, I put a call out on Twitter to find people with similar experiences, which yielded a plethora of answers.

From last minute cancellations, to busy phone lines to videos of stacks of luggage laying out beside carousels at Pearson ⁠— a scene repeated in Windsor on a smaller scale.

Lisa Porter, a frequent traveller for her job at the University of Windsor, shared her story of last minute cancellations and making connecting flights in Toronto. She said, because of this, she's had to cab to Toronto twice in the last month. 

"When you have to catch a cab to get to Toronto two times because of understaffed planes, this is a problem and I think that relatively small places are going to be disadvantaged because they are obviously going to put their resources toward the bigger planes that have more bodies," Porter said.

A woman seated on a chair, smiling on a zoom call.
Frequent traveller Lisa Porter says that she'll be taking trains for the time being to travel to and from Toronto. (CBC)

She said she will be opting for ground travel for trips to Toronto in the near future.

"If you have to go, I think the train is a more reliable option," she said. "I know it takes four hours of your life but you can do work." 

Leigh Howell also experienced cancellations on both ends of his recent trip with his wife to London's Heathrow Airport. They were on their way to visit a sick relative.

"To have all of this on top of it ⁠— my wife is ⁠— I mean she's shook. It's not right."

Leigh Howell, Windsor resident in a zoom interview.
Leigh Howell says he ended up travelling to and from Windsor in a limo because of cancelled flights. (Jacob Barker/CBC)

He said that the Air Canada staffers he dealt with in Windsor were great, as they organized a limo for the couple to meet their connection in Toronto. 

He said what he experienced at Pearson was chaotic. He said he was told they'd have to wait multiple days for another flight to Windsor and no other forms of transportation was offered after waiting in line at customer service for an hour and a half. 

"My wife by this time was totally distraught. We'd been walking for hours trying to find somebody." 

Their bags had still not been returned to them two days after their arrival.

Air Canada to make reductions 

Glancing at the arrival and departure board from Windsor airport this week, you'll see a number of cancellations to and from Toronto — most of them Air Canada or Air Canada express flights. 

In a statement on Wednesday, Air Canada's president and CEO, Michael Rosseau, said the airline is making "meaningful reductions" to scheduled flights in July and August, in response to issues facing the airline. 

"This was not an easy decision, as it will result in additional flight cancellations that will have a negative impact on some customers," Rousseau said.

"But doing this in advance allows affected customers to take time to make other arrangements in an orderly manner, rather than have their travel disrupted shortly before or during their journey, with few alternatives available."

Windsor International Airport CEO Mark Galvin said that airlines are coming out of an unprecedented event with COVID-19. The terminal, which is now extremely busy was empty at times throughout the pandemic.

A man standing outside of an airport.
Mark Galvin, CEO of Windsor International Airport, says that the airlines are experiencing growing pains following the COVID-19 pandemic. (Jacob Barker/CBC)

"I can remember coming in, there wasn't a car here ... not in the parking lot, not anywhere," he said. "Restarting an industry like this, it takes some time to do that." 

Galvin said this is the season people want to travel and that hasn't been happening the past two years.

"I look at the horizon and I say there will be some short term pain as we go through this," he said. "But we're working through those issues and we're trying to weather that storm."

Overbooking and under capacity

For Gabor Lukacs, who is an advocate for airline passengers in Canada, the problem airlines and airports are facing is preventable.

He said airlines need to give a more realistic picture of their capacity to those booking flights. He said airlines are representing the situation as if it's outside of their control.

"It's not," he said. "They have full control over their schedule. They have full control over their ticket sales. The message should be very simple: 'If you don't have much staff just sell less tickets.'"

A headshot of a man.
Airline passenger advocate Gabor Lukacs says airlines could have avoided these types of issues by offering a realistic number of flights for their staffing levels. (Robert Short/CBC)

"Holding airlines accountable is important so that next year we are going to see better service," Lukacs said. 

He said that while there is a process offered through the Canadian Transportation Agency for claiming compensation for your travel, those that experience issues should seek accountability elsewhere, such as through the justice system.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Jacob Barker

Videojournalist

Jacob Barker is a videojournalist for CBC Windsor.

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