12 hours on the tarmac: Snow wreaks havoc at Vancouver airport
Packed planes spent hours stuck on the tarmac overnight as heavy snow snarled operations at the Vancouver airport, leading to dozens of flight cancellations and delays.
Some frustrated passengers described being trapped for as long as 12 hours with little to eat or drink as they waited to be taxied back to the terminals at Vancouver International Airport.
YVR officials called the impacts of the latest snowstorm to wallop B.C.'s South Coast "unprecedented," and warned travellers there would likely be spillover effects that would last throughout the week.
"There are currently no flights departing YVR as we safely get passengers off aircraft and clear the airfield," the Vancouver Airport Authority said in a statement Tuesday morning.
"Passengers who are expecting to fly today and this week are advised to check with their airline directly on the status of their flight. We are asking people to please not come to YVR if you do not absolutely need to."
While storm preparations were undertaken, parts of the Lower Mainland ended up experiencing twice the forecasted snow – with 30 cm in downtown Vancouver and 27 cm at the airport.
Many would-be travellers boarded planes the previous evening, only to find themselves trapped until the morning.
Corey Malone told CTV News he headed to the airport hours early, anticipating there could be trouble on the roads, long security lineups and other challenges getting onto his WestJest flight to Toronto, which was supposed to depart at 5 p.m. Monday.
"I just knew how bad the storm was getting, so I wanted a little extra time to get myself settled," he said.
Passengers ended up sitting on the aircraft for about three hours, told to hang tight while the crew waited for the snowstorm to subside – before eventually being informed it was unsafe to fly.
Los Angeles resident Jessica Campbell was on the same flight, and said things became tense as the hours dragged on with everyone waiting for the plane to return to the airport.
"All of a sudden one hour turns into 12 hours of people having panic attacks, yelling for doctors," she said. "There was a cat peeing on board, someone was throwing up in the bathroom."
Campbell said passengers were given "two cups of water" and some snacks during the wait. Unsure what to do next, Campell said her family contacted the U.S. embassy for help.
In a statement, WestJet said it is working to make new travel arrangements for passengers as quickly as possible but acknowledged the challenges of trying to re-book so many people over the holiday season.
Full refunds are being offered in lieu of tickets on alternative flights for passengers who are willing to forgo travel altogether.
"We sincerely apologize to guests who have been impacted by cancellations and delays resulting from severe winter weather across Western Canada," the airline said. "We understand the importance of holiday travel and the frustration and disappointment this has caused."
WestJet also warned more severe winter weather in the forecast could further hamper its operations and lead to further impacts to passengers in the coming days.
The issues affected every airline, including Air Canada, which said the amount of snow at YVR limited the ability to tow aircraft to and from the gates. This resulted in gridlock and frozen jet bridges, which prevented people from being able to deplane.
“Air Canada’s YVR employees have done the very best they could to assist customers in a very challenging, evolving situation. As weather and storm situations are beyond Air Canada’s direct control, we are not able to provide for accommodations or meals,” a spokesperson said in an email.
HOLIDAY PLANS IN LIMBO
Malone credited the staff on his flight for doing everything they could to be hospitable, but said they appeared to have as little information as the passengers.
After the plane finally returned to the terminal, Malone and other locals were told to go home and await an update explaining whether they would be able to make it onto another flight anytime soon. Non-residents said they were told to work out their own accommodations.
"I have no idea if I'm going to be able to make it home for Christmas, which is just really upsetting for me – just because I haven't seen my mom in some time," Malone said. "There's rumours that I might be able to get on a flight on Friday, but who's to say?"
By the early afternoon, YVR officials confirmed a "small number" of planes had managed to successfully take off, but warned that de-icing work was still underway.
Meanwhile, thousands of people crowded the airport holding out hope of salvaging their travel plans.
"Cancellations and delays will persist," the Vancouver Airport Authority warned. "We recognize the impact this has had on travellers. We are incredibly grateful for their patience as well as the professionalism of flight crews as ground teams continue to work to get people off aircraft as soon as is safely possible."
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