TORONTO - Canada's largest air carrier is reviewing how it responded after winter storms led to widespread cancellations and delays during the holidays, according to a Globe and Mail report.

Air Canada had to foot the bill for more than 5,000 hotel rooms, issue thousands of meal vouchers and conquer a mountain of luggage at airports.

The storms dragged down the airline's performance to 59 per cent of flights arriving on time last month.

In a message to employees, Air Canada CEO Montie Brewer said once the storms cleared, the airline couldn't recover as quickly as it should have and some customers were justifiably upset.

But Brewer does say the cross-country scope of the severe winter weather was unusual, noting Vancouver went through more de-icing fluid in one day than is normally used in half a season.

Union leaders say the airline was understaffed for the holiday rush, but Brewer praised employees who worked extra hours and went out of their way to help customers.

Widespread complaints

During 40 years working as a consumer representative, Bruce Cran of the Consumers' Association of Canada said he has never seen anything like the problems encountered by Air Canada this holiday season.

In the last two weeks, Cran has received hundreds of customer complaints about the airline.

The callers phoned to complain about everything from passengers held on the tarmac to the lack of snow tires on the big tugs that tow planes out.

"We've got to get this resolved before the Olympic Games. We've got 14 months to go and our national carrier can't handle it?" Cran said.

The Consumer's Association will express its concern to Federal Transport Minister Laurence Cannon and demand better protection for airline passengers.

For some passengers, it couldn't come soon enough.

"If I ran my business the way they ran theirs, I wouldn't have one. I'm never flying Air Canada again,'' Tony Di Mambro, a frustrated passenger, told CTV News.

Bruce Fougner of Lloyds Travel and Cruises has heard a lot of people make a similar vow. As for Air Canada's explanation, there isn't one. Calls and emails to the company have not been returned.

When it comes to public relations, this travel agent says Air Canada has lost the battle.

"I hope Air Canada has learned they really got beaten to the customer service punch by WestJet,'' said Fougner. "How they responded with air credits. You can't buy that type of advertising,'' he said.

With files from The Canadian Press and a report from CTV British Columbia's Leah Hendry