The polar vortex: a traveller’s nightmare

1,100 bags were stranded at Pearson. Photo: Shawn Sirois/Le Collectif

1,100 bags were stranded at Pearson. Photo: Shawn Sirois/Le Collectif

When you travel you never know what to expect.

Travelling in Canada during the winter can bring about possible thoughts of piercing cold air hitting your face. Or on the brighter side, the thrill of speed when you hit the slopes. But thoughts of learning and information went through my head this year as I prepared myself for a trip to Edmonton for the Canadian University Press’ (CUP) National Conference.

My patience was tested on Jan. 8 as well as that of my colleague Danilo Barba, as our anticipated flight to Edmonton was cancelled. What happened next will always be remembered and will most likely make me rethink the choice of airline, the next time I travel.

According to Environment Canada meteorologist Geoff Coulson, “Jan. 7 was one of Toronto’s most bone-chilling temperatures since Jan. 21, 2005,” which caused major problems at Pearson.

After scrambling to find another flight, the next morning I received an email from West Jet about an available flight to Edmonton, and eventually we were rebooked.

Arriving at the airport the next day around noon we went through the normal airport routine. Check-in and security check went smoothly, but then came the four hour wait till boarding time, as our flight had been delayed till after 4 p.m.

Pearson was full of people travelling to various places, but at gate 66, getting around people was difficult as “470 guests,” were waiting to board flight 3017 to Calgary, according to Robert Palmer, manager of media and public relations for West Jet.

We stopped at various shops during our wait and even went for a drink at an airport bar in a desperate effort to kill time.

Around 4 p.m. the plane rented from the U.S.A. finally arrived, massive to say the least. We became aware of just how inconvenient this situation was, not only for us but for all the other guests as well.

Ready to board, airport personnel informed about the crew members’ mandatory custom routine after crossing the boarder – which was normal and fine with us. Not too long after, they came on the intercom again, this time to inform us all that customs checks were a success but unfortunately work permits had not been issued to the American crew on board.

Another delay.

“You have got to be kidding me!” I said to Danilo, as my facial expression turned form obvious excitement to definite frustration.

After spending nine hours at the airport, waiting, we were finally on board and ready for take-off.

Sharing our row in the aircraft, a lady from Calgary named Alisha had been anxiously waiting for her flight for 12 hours after being stuck in Toronto the day before after her flight was cancelled.

Although she said she was frustrated waiting all day, she was grateful to now be on her way home. A kind soul, she made our flight much more bearable. She was not only a fellow passenger throughout the flight, but became a friend as well.

Words and jokes were exchanged for the next three hours – and I must say, she may have been the only passenger in my two previous times flying, that I have had enjoyed sitting beside.

Upon arriving in Calgary, we said our goodbyes and headed into the airport in an attempt to find our luggage. But our baggage was nowhere to be found, being one of 1,100 bags according to Palmer, and no one could give us a straight answer as to where it could’ve possibly been. We then hopped on a bus outside the airport on route to Edmonton airport, where we were hoping we’d find our luggage.

Fortunately our exhaustion allowed us to sleep just after we left the Calgary airport, and when we woke up we were entering Edmonton. I should probably mention that initially we were supposed to take a connecting flight from Calgary to Edmonton, but had to take a bus because there were no more flights; so we were offered a taxi voucher to get us to our hotel.

We hurried off the bus with feelings of utter grumpiness and headed into the Edmonton airport. About five minutes later we realized that no one had not told us where to pick up the taxi voucher, so we started walking around the airport looking for West Jet personnel.

From baggage services, to the taxi, and back to baggage services, we were finally told to go to a counter where travellers could receive their vouchers – what a mess! We grabbed the voucher, hopped in the taxi and thankfully arrived at the hotel.

When we got to the hotel, to our surprise, I had been registered for a room but for some reason Danilo had not been – what more could happen!

We ended up finding a place to sleep and were so excited to hit the pillow. Once in bed, we were at ease, until the symphony of snores began from the room-mate in the next bed.

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The polar vortex: a traveller’s nightmare