Sask. man describes frustrating 35-hour, multi-cancellation trip from Ottawa to Saskatoon

·4 min read
It took Steve Seiferling 35 hours to travel between Ottawa and Saskatoon this weekend.  (Submitted - image credit)
It took Steve Seiferling 35 hours to travel between Ottawa and Saskatoon this weekend. (Submitted - image credit)

Steve Seiferling says airlines need to pick up their game after he was trapped on connecting flights for a day and a half while trying to get home to Saskatoon this past weekend.

The saga started on Friday, when Seiferling boarded a flight from Ottawa to get to a connecting flight in Toronto. That first flight was delayed by 2.5 hours, and once his plane landed he was stuck on the tarmac for another 35 minutes.

By the time he and 15 other passengers headed for Saskatoon rushed to their gate, they found out their connecting flight had already left.

By midnight, there were about 45 travelers lined up at the WestJet desk in Pearson airport, wondering where they would go next.

"They served about 10 of us and gave us hotel vouchers and told us, you know, you're missing your flight," he told CBC Radio's Saskatoon Morning.

"Then they said, 'Oh, by the way, we're shutting down. Anybody who hasn't been dealt with can come back at 4:30 a.m. because that's when we open up again.'"

A string of cancelled flights followed, along with battles for hotel rooms and a lot of uncertainty about when Seiferling would finally make his way home.

He eventually managed to make it to Calgary, where he was told his connecting flight to Saskatoon had been cancelled. He was also told that hotel vouchers would not be given out due to the large number of missed connections.

Now back in Saskatoon, Seiferling has a few tips for anyone looking to fly long distances this summer.

He recommends taking direct flights whenever possible, and flying earlier in the day, as the number of cancellations seemed to ramp up as the day went on.

Seiferling said he felt sorry for the airline employees who had to deal with increasingly irate passengers.

He said communications between flights should be improved and the connecting flight to Saskatoon should have been held. He also said lifting COVID-19 protocols would help speed things up.

Ultimately, he said more airline staff need to be hired.

"They just need to hire more people and staff up," he said.

"They need to staff up quickly so that things like closing a WestJet customer service desk when you still have 30 people in line just doesn't happen."

'Extremely frustrating'

Seiferling is far from the only person who has been running into airline trouble over the last few months.

Another Saskatoon couple was trapped in airports for roughly 36 hours earlier this month.

Ken and Nancy Ladd were scheduled to fly out of Montreal on the morning of June 19 and didn't arrive home until the afternoon of June 21.

Like Seiferling, the couple faced a cascade of cancelled flights, long waits at customer service and frustration.

"It was extremely frustrating," said Ken Ladd.

"Particularly with long lines.… When you got poor customer service, it was frustrating, but again they were being overwhelmed."

Ladd said the whole experience has him wondering when he's going to get back on an airplane.

"We were in the process of planning a trip to Toronto in September, but now that's in limbo," he said.

"We may still do it if it's a direct flight."

Travel troubles

Many passengers at airports across the country have reported very long wait times, exacerbated by labour shortages and COVID-19 restrictions.

Earlier this month, the federal government announced it had hired more than 850 new Canadian Air Transport Security Authority agents across the country in an attempt to cut down on wait times.

Diederik Pen, chief operating officer of Westjet, said the airline is trying to space out its schedule to help cut down on congestion and cancelling some flights altogether. He also said the airline is doing its best to recruit qualified staff.

He stopped short of blaming travel woes on one specific factor.

"I don't want to point the finger at a specific item," said Pen.

"It's just making sure that this ecosystem works as efficiently as possible while working together and guests having some understanding and some patience."

Anyone who experiences a lengthy delay can apply for compensation from the airline if they were informed about the change 14 days or fewer from the original planned departure.

Large airlines must pay $400 if the passenger arrives at their destination between three and six hours late, $700 if they are between six and nine hours late and $1,000 if they are more than nine hours late.

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