Toronto’s snowstorm highlighted by chaos at Pearson Airport

Matthew Coutts
National Affairs Reporter
Daily Brew
A security breach at Toronto's Pearson Airport on Saturday caused international flights to be grounded.

It will come as no surprise that Toronto airports were left is utter chaos during last week’s snowstorm, as snow pelted southern Ontario and made flying conditions inhospitable at best.

For passengers of one flight, the storm meant some 16 hours of delays, much of that time spent trapped on board the aircraft. It was not ideal.

The Friday storm left Toronto with 25 centimetres of snowfall in short order. The area around the city was hit with even more, causing delays and chaos on subway and train lines, to bus services and at the airports.

Passengers at Toronto's Pearson International Airport and the downtown Billy Bishop Airport faced dozens of cancellations on Friday and Saturday.

The nightmarish weekend was highlighted by a Sunwing Vacations charter flight to sunny Costa Rica that was caught up by freezing winds, failing safety equipment, staffing regulations and 200 trapped and frustrated passengers.

[ Related: Storm saga: anatomy of a 17-hour flight delay ]

The Toronto Star reports that the morning flight was delayed by more than 16 hours on Saturday, with passengers trapped on board the aircraft for much of that time.

The plane was caught in a massive backlog that began when a de-icing facility at the airport could not keep up with demand, leaving scores of planes waiting through the day to be cleared for takeoff.

The Star's John Spears writes:

As Flight 794 waited for wing de-icing, two things happened.

First, because the plane was idling for hours, it had burned up too much fuel to allow it to take off.

Second, ground crews noticed ice building up on the engine cowling, which requires a return to the gate.

With the other problems at the airport, the only available gate was one that normally handles U.S. aircraft. Because the passengers were headed for Panama and Costa Rica, they weren’t allowed to get off while crews removed the ice.

Then it was back in line for wing de-icing, where the line was longer than ever.

Let's be clear: This is bad. The flight was delayed by mechanical failure. It was delayed longer by issues of customs and paperwork. Delayed longer still when staff hit their legal working limit and were replaced with a fresh crew.

But what is the alternative? Fly with frozen brake lines? A weary crew, risking sloppy oversight and possible mid-flight problems?

Risk flying into the heart of a snowstorm because, damn it, the Wright brothers conquered gravity 100 years ago and Mother Nature must now kneel to our whims?

Unfortunately, the weather-related problems didn’t end there.

[ Related: Family thrown from Sunwing flight is the talk of Nova Scotia ]

The National Post reports that Park'N Fly, an airport valet service, was still backlogged on Sunday, with returning passengers mixing with those who saw their flights cancelled to demand the immediate return of their vehicles.

The company wrote in a Facebook post:

A combination of the snowstorm, flight delays and cancellations created an abnormally high flow of returning customers. This situation resulted in unacceptable wait times.

Lynda Davis, who waited five hours to retrieve her car, told the Post that people were yelling at the parking attendants, adding that the service was "understaffed and unprepared" to deal with the snow.

It is odd living in a time when the wonder of air travel is so taken for granted that we demand the right to fly under any circumstance or condition.

A generation ago, flying on an airplane was respected and dignified. Passengers would dress in their Sunday best to board an airplane. Because it was damn amazing that a man-made vehicle would defy gravity, ascend into the sky and land thousands of kilometers away without a single thing exploding or catching on fire.

Nowadays we act like over-privileged ruffians, demanding the steel beasts act at our whim and perform at our leisure. Even dangerous flying conditions are considered an annoyance, not a reason for delay.

Sometimes weather is going to knock us back, and there is nothing that we can do but be humbled and accept that our plans will come second to its authority.

Still, a 16-hour delay to start a vacation in sunny Costa Rica?

Dude, that sucks.