air canada toronto storm

This is what it was like to try and fly home to Toronto during the huge snowstorm

Dozens of flights in and out of Toronto were cancelled last Friday as Pearson International Airport braced for a major snowstorm. I was supposed to be on one of those flights, and let's just say things didn't work out too well for me.

Like many other passengers with similar horror stories, I placed faith in my return home with the national flag carrier airline, Air Canada. That was probably my first mistake.

It was the cheapest direct flight at the time of booking, at least for people with actual luggage (a not-so-subtle jab at low-cost carriers Flair and Swoop,) though even before a snowstorm threatened to slam into Toronto, my confidence in Air Canada had been shaken by less-than-stellar past experiences.

But this time would take the cake and officially put the country's largest airline in the top spot on my personal no-fly list.

I was not surprised when Air Canada preemptively cancelled my flight home early Friday morning, knowing the pending storm was out of the airline's control and that sometimes luck is just not on your side regarding weather.

That's not the part I will rant about for the next little while. Nobody can be held liable for the weather, no matter what some unhinged U.S. politicians may tell you.

A cancelled flight is just a thing that happens sometimes. It was the lack of communication, assurance, and even the most basic level of customer service that really ticked me off.

Roughly ten hours after the flight cancellation, Air Canada notified me by email that "we're sorry as one or more of your flights has been cancelled and unfortunately we have been unable to automatically rebook you."

The notification added that Air Canada was "actively looking to find an alternative flight," and would "email you with an update shortly."

That update would never arrive. And sure enough, the exact same flight that had been cancelled on Friday (AC1284 LAS-YYZ) had seats available for the Saturday flight.

Sure, they were a tier above the seating I had purchased for my cancelled flight, but instead of offering an upgrade or the option to even pay for one, Air Canada maintained radio silence, forcing me to purchase seats at twice the price originally paid with little communication.

Meanwhile, I'm sitting on the floor of a casino next to an ATM trying to keep my phone charged and watching flights from other airlines depart. Those pants are probably a write-off now too.

Making matters worse, a UFC fight in Las Vegas the day after my planned departure had driven up hotel prices by orders of magnitude, adding to the already unforeseen costs for everyone who had planned on flying out the night before.

All the while, seats remained available for airline passengers willing to pay extra for premium economy instead of accommodating those left in the lurch by the cancellation.

In a statement to blogTO, an Air Canada representative unsurprisingly says that the airline does not book passengers of cancelled flights on better seats, nor does it pay incidental expenses for costs incurred.

As for the lack of communication? Air Canada says that's also the storm's fault, explaining that after severe weather events, "the process of rebooking customers takes longer because we must wait until the weather clears sufficiently so we can revise our schedule and determine which flights will be operating and with what equipment."

air canada toronto

The airport was right across the street from my pyramid-shaped accommodations, but it felt like an entire world away after a day and a half of confusion.

If my main mistake was booking a flight on Air Canada, my second-biggest mistake was doing it through Expedia. An Expedia agent maintained via phone that the cancelled flight was still booked, further muddying communication and wasting crucial time instead of helping to rebook the flight.

Only after the flight landed were we provided with Air Canada travel vouchers through Expedia covering just the cost of the cancelled flight and not the extra dough spent to actually make it home.

My experience was in no way unique in a storm that saw hundreds of flights affected.

That same winter storm was held responsible for a Toronto-Halifax flight where passengers spent 7.5 hours stuck in their plane on the tarmac at Pearson.

Only two weeks earlier, another plane spent roughly seven hours stuck on the tarmac during a less-severe bout of winter weather.

But even on days where weather isn't the culprit, it's a story everyone has heard time and time again from frustrated passengers venting about an airline that is supposed to represent an entire country.

The airline prides itself on having the "Best Airline Staff in Canada and North America," but many out there — myself included — want Air Canada to do better for its customers.

Photos by

Jack Landau

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