As Christmas season shifts into New Year's preparations, some people are still waiting to see the family members they planned to visit this holiday season.
Howard and Karen Chambers are two of the thousands of travellers who have struggled both leaving and entering Canada amidst countless flight cancellations and delays from airlines, with winter storms contributing to the widespread issues.
Both originally from Moose Jaw, Sask., the husband and wife have been living in Taiwan for the past 15 years. Returning to the Prairies was set to be their first reunion with family — including their son's wife whom he married during the COVID-19 pandemic — since 2019.
It was going to be a month-long vacation back in Moose Jaw before they head back to Taiwan on Jan. 19.
"Today we are excited to be leaving for Canada," reads a Dec. 20 note in Howard's digital diary, written out over 14 pages on Microsoft Word and entitled "A Christmas to Remember."
"This was going to be the best Christmas we had … for the past few years. We couldn't wait."
Instead, the two spent Christmas breakfast at a Vancouver Denny's and most of the day in a hotel. They spent six days in Vancouver and contracted a bad case of the common cold, which Howard attributed to a lack of sleep and poor wellness.
On Tuesday afternoon, Howard said they were sitting in an Edmonton airport, hoping their flight to Regina for that evening would pan out.
They successfully arrived Tuesday evening.
'Your legs are shaking'
Chambers said he expected to dodge the Canadian storms, because Vancouver is rarely on the receiving end of snowstorms, but instead they stranded there. He and others from their flight struggled to find information, including where to get their baggage.
He found an area with benches that could be used as an uncomfortable bed. Howard said that area became a community for some of those stranded at the Vancouver International Airport.
He and Karen ended up spending three days at the airport.
"My wife was able to get some sleep but I would only close my eyes for a half an hour and wake up and be sore, so I got up and walked… that was three days I didn't sleep," he said.
At one point, he said, he and his wife pleaded with tears in their eyes to the airport CEO after they had done an interview with media. It started a process to get flights out of the city.
The soreness, exhaustion and fatigue compounded on Dec. 24, when they were set to get a hotel and Howard had to be pushed to the sign-up sheet in a wheelchair because he couldn't stand up.
"We just ate an awesome meal and are going to head to bed for the first time in four days ... today I can't stop the tears from the situation and being [so] tired," he wrote in his diary.
He recounted asking his wife at one point if there was an earthquake.
"No, your legs are shaking," she replied.
Howard said he heard stories like his from dozens of people, including one 20-year-old who was flying for the first time without her parents and another woman whose son was so distressed by the situation that he didn't want to leave the airport, even when a hotel was offered.
Chambers said he hopes the airline industry will make changes to prevent issues like this from happening again.
Severe weather led to tough holiday season: airports
James Bogusz, president and CEO of the Regina International Airport, said crews were on site and doesn't believe there's any significant changes the airport could make, but that it wants to ensure flight changes are communicated as clearly as possible to travellers.
He called it one of the most challenging holiday seasons in his two decades with the airport.
He said Tuesday afternoon that flight issues seemed to be subsiding: only one flight had been cancelled that day so far, though some delays persisted.
However, on Tuesday evening many more flights through Regina were delayed or cancelled.
A spokesperson for Saskatoon's airport said there wasn't anyone available for an interview, but that the airport is fully operational.
"The previous severe weather that had impacted flights across the country, leading to compounding network-wide cancellations and delays is returning to normal with the exception of Sunwing, which continues to face significant crew and aircraft challenges," the email said.
Both major Saskatchewan airports advised travellers to check their flight status before leaving for the airport.
The office of the Minister of Transport said in a statement that it's monitoring the situation and is in regular contact with airlines and airports to keep passengers moving safely.
"We understand how frustrating these delays and cancellations were for travellers this holiday season. This was an unprecedented weather situation, and airports and airlines did everything they can to ensure passengers are accommodated," it said.
Holiday plans stifled leaving Sask.
While some travellers are struggling to get into the province, others are finding it difficult to get out.
Amy Simon, her boyfriend, Shayne Erhardt, and their 20-month-old child were scheduled to fly from Regina to Arizona via Vancouver on Dec. 23. Since then, they have had four cancelled flights.
Simon said Erhardt spent 14 hours on the phone with Westjet trying to figure things out. They weren't able to have Christmas in Arizona as planned.
The trio were hoping to fly to San Diego on Wednesday then drive three hours to Arizona.
"We are lucky we booked an 11-day holiday, because if we were only going for a week, we would get one day of our vacation," Simon said Tuesday.
On Wednesday morning, Simon said their flight was cancelled minutes before boarding and they've decided to cancel their holiday plans.