Home for Christmas? Holiday travel woes hit Winnipeg airport after B.C. storm

The Robertson family is dreaming of spending Christmas on a beach in Mexico, but holiday travel woes have thrown a wrench in their plans.

Before they can get to the sandy beaches, they’re going to have to drive from their home in Winnipeg to Minneapolis.

But unlike thousands of other travellers, the airline didn’t cancel their flight — they cancelled it themselves, after seeing the travel chaos unfolding to the west.

Their original travel plan was to take off from Winnipeg at noon Thursday and make their way west, with layovers in Calgary and Vancouver before flying to Mazatlan, Mexico.

But after arriving at Winnipeg’s Richardson International Airport ahead of their Thursday flight, that plan changed.

“We [initially] kind of thought we could get to Calgary … and then stay with family over there and see them a little bit for Christmas,” and then finish the journey after a spending some time there, said Judd Robertson.

But it was too complicated and unpredictable to rebook flights leaving from the West Coast, so the family of four opted not to fly out of Winnipeg at all Thursday, deciding to stay put while they rearrange their plans to fly out of the U.S. instead.

Air traffic has been backlogged in Western Canada since an unusually heavy snowfall hit B.C.’s South Coast on Monday night through Tuesday morning, leading to hundreds of cancelled or delayed flights.

Some passengers have now spent days stranded at Vancouver International Airport after their flights were grounded.

Since so many flights go through Vancouver and Toronto — two of the biggest transportation hubs in the country —  travellers at the Winnipeg airport are being hit by that same travel chaos.

At least 19 flights at Winnipeg’s airport were cancelled on Thursday, and many more were delayed.

“Oftentimes the plane that’s supposed to depart from Winnipeg might be used in two or three different cities earlier in the day,” Winnipeg Airports Authority spokesperson Michel Rosset explained. “So it’s only gonna kind of trickle down … to Winnipeg here.”

A man with glasses and wearing a dark grey toque is standing in the airport departures terminal.
Neil Tormon and his family won’t make it the Philippines, where his wife lives, until after Christmas due to flight delays and cancellations. (Trevor Brine/CBC)

Neil Tormon, his daughter and his son were supposed to fly out on Tuesday to the Philippines, but their connecting flight in Vancouver was cancelled.

“The weather didn’t allow us. It’s really bad because I want to be home … before Christmas,” Tormon said.

His travel agent found a flight with Air Canada that would leave Friday and get his family to the Philippines after Christmas.

Tormon is hoping WestJet, the airline he originally booked with, will reimburse him for the cancelled flight so he can pay for the Air Canada one.

“I feel so sad about it … but I tried to calm down myself, because you know what? It’s nature and you know, can’t do anything about it,” he said.

Ontario is now bracing for a wicked storm too, which is expected to worsen the situation in Canadian airports.

Torontonians Susan and Joel Grosh thought they scored a deal when they found a cheap Tuesday flight through Winnipeg on the way to Palm Springs, Calif.

The snowbirds usually fly directly there, but this time, “very strangely, we say, ‘Oh, what’s the worst that could happen? Well, get stuck in Winnipeg — at least we know people here,” Susan said with a laugh.

A woman with gray hair and a man with gray hair, a beard and glasses stand in an aiport.
Toronto couple Susan and Joel Grosh usually fly direct to Palm Springs, Calif., but opted for a stop in Winnipeg this time around. (Trevor Brine/CBC)

The couple were still in good spirits Thursday, after the initial stress from their cancelled Tuesday flight wore off.

They now plan to fly to Las Vegas, rent a car and drive the rest of the way to Palm Springs, where they’ll stay for a few months. 

Susan said Thursday she’s excited to reconnect with some friends, while Joel was looking forward to a change of clothes and reading a book in the sun.

“We’ve calmed down. We’re being rational people,” said Joel.

“You know, how much worse it get? Maybe they’ll lose our bags on the way,” he said, laughing.

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