Singing the Toronto Pearson polar vortex blues

baggage_at_pearson_airport.jpg.size.xxlarge.letterboxIt wasn’t as bad as calling out the army to deal with a snowfall, but shutting down Pearson Airport on Tuesday was a very bad signal to send out.

I understand that it was NOT business as usual on Tuesday. The cold snap was incredible and conditions were appalling for both operations and people.

It’s completely understandable that flights would be cancelled, both arriving and departing. And it’s understandable that luggage would be delayed and other issues would pop up.

But that doesn’t mean you have to halt the entire shebang and officially declare that you’ve shuttered Canada’s largest airport.

Even if they hadn’t actually OPERATED the airport it was a mistake, I think, to say they had no intention of trying to run things for several hours. It sends out a bad signal to the business community and to tourism folks as it suggests we can’t handle the frigid weather (in a country that’s known for it).

Don’t forget, Pearson is trying to get more international flights and make itself a bigger hub for world traffic. Great idea. But you don’t do that by shuttering the joint for some eight hours because of a polar vortex.

(I don’t know about you, but I’d never heard the phrase “polar vortex” until this week. I hope to never hear it again.)

I landed at Pearson yesterday around 4 p.m. on a WestJet flight from Calgary, and it was a bit of a zoo. But at least I landed, and my luggage was only delayed 20 minutes or so. There were huge lineups at various counters, of course, and a monster lineup for cabs and limos. I called Aerofleet, which I have used for probably 25 years now. Unfortunately, my assigned driver originally went to the wrong terminal and I had to wait an extra 10 minutes for my ride home. But that’s nothing compared to the guy on CTV complaining that he waited seven HOURS for his luggage.

McGill professor and aviation expert Karl Moore told the Star that Toronto isn’t as cold as other cities in Canada on a regular basis.

pearsonmess“How come we can do this (handle the cold) in other parts of the country that are even colder, and Toronto can’t?”

Moore acknowledged that airports in cities like Regina have relatively few flights a day, while Pearson is by far the busiest and most complex airport in Canada. But he said the long-term fallout may be that passengers will realize flying through a major hub like Pearson means they risk being late.


Things are better today, but as of 6 a.m. Wednesday, 230 arrivals and 165 departures had already been cancelled and dozens more delayed, Star reporter Paul Clarke reported. At Billy Bishop Toronto City Airport only a handful of flights were affected by the weather. But Porter Airlines had a weather advisory posted at mid-day for Toronto and St. John’s, Newfoundland.

Folks at Air Canada said they cancelled some flights today.

“The idea behind that is we put out a schedule for our customers that we knew we could deliver,” said spokesman Peter Fitzpatrick. “We didn’t want to over-promise.”

“We’re adding extra aircraft and extra flights slowly,” he said. “We’re slowly getting back to normal.”

In a Twitter message they directed my way around 12:30 p.m. today, Air Canada also said that, where possible, they also are “operating flights with larger aircraft in order to help our passengers reach their destination.”

Good call.

WestJet’s website said that Pearson and Hamilton airports both are still experiencing issues that may cause cancellations or delays. So we appear to still have a way to go…

Meanwhile, a top Toronto Pearson official was on CBC’s Metro Morning today and said they could’ve done a better job.

Toby Lennox, the Greater Toronto Airports Authority’s vice-president of marketing and stakeholder relations, spoke about the delays on CBC’s Metro Morning on Wednesday, as travellers face more turmoil at the airport related to the extremely cold weather.

Lennox told host Matt Galloway that GTAA staff will examine what improvements can be made.

“I’ve listened to the comments of travellers and I really do feel for them.”

Thousands of passengers arriving Tuesday morning waited hours — in some cases as many as five hours — for their planes to reach the gate, then hours more to claim their luggage. Some left the airport without their bags while unclaimed luggage covered the floor in some arrival areas.

We could have done a better job with respect to the communications to passengers,” he said. “It’s an enormously complicated situation. There were far more arrivals then we could handle at the time due to the extreme weather.

“Everything started to slow down and ice up more than we expected.”


Dreaming of escaping that dreaded polar vortex (oops, I said it)? Here’s a great deal for one of my favourite hotels; the authentically Hawaiian, low-key and perfectly placed Ka’anapali Beach Hotel on Maui.

The Island Romance Package allows you to enjoy an ocean view room, a buffet breakfast for two, a relaxing facial or massage for two, champagne, choice of surf lessons or evening dinner cruise and more at a fabulous property right on famous Ka’anapali Beach. The staff at KBH are lovely and welcoming and it’s got a very old-time Hawaiian feel to it, with offerings such as learning the hula or the ukulele. It’s right next to the great shops and restaurants at Whalers Village, too.

Island Romance 2014 package includes:

  • 4 nights accommodation in an Ocean View room
  • Daily Buffet Breakfast for 2
  • Daily compact rental car (based on 24 hour rental period, click here for more details)
  • Daily valet parking including
  • Split of Champagne
  • Choice of two beach towels
  • Picnic lunch in keepsake logo picnic backpack
  • 55 minute massage or facial for 2
  • One dinner for 2 at the Tiki Terrace Restaurant or Sunday Champagne Brunch
  • Choice of one optional activity for two: Evening Dinner Cruise or Surf Lessons

Valid for travel: January 5, 2014 – January 5, 2015

Book Here: http://www.kbhmaui.com/cms/View.aspx/Show/IslandRomance2014

Price: $1,709
Additional Nights* $290



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