Airport dispute tense for St. John's woman who waited 2 years for medical appointment

·3 min read
Flights are on schedule at St. John's International Airport until 8 a.m. Friday morning. (Fred Hutton/CBC - image credit)
Flights are on schedule at St. John's International Airport until 8 a.m. Friday morning. (Fred Hutton/CBC - image credit)
Fred Hutton/CBC
Fred Hutton/CBC

The St. John's International Airport says it plans to continue normal operations until at least 8 a.m. Saturday, amid an ongoing labour dispute that forced the cancellation of most commuter traffic there earlier this week.

The airport announced via Twitter on Thursday afternoon that it is still working through the mediation process to resolve the issues between it and its firefighters.

The dispute between the airport authority and its fire staff came to a head on Tuesday afternoon.

Most passenger flights in and out of the airport were cancelled after six of the nine employed firefighters went on leave due to concerns over what they call a toxic workplace, leaving the airport without adequate staffing levels.

Those flights resumed the next morning after both parties met with a federal mediator to resolve the situation.

But that solution isn't permanent, and while flights at the airport are on schedule now until Saturday morning, the looming possibility of further disruptions is causing stress for travellers.

The situation has been particularly stressful for Jolene Hanrahan, who is scheduled to fly to North Carolina for a medical appointment Friday — one that she's waited two years for.

"I've been sick for just over four years and really struggled to get help here," the St. John's woman told CBC Radio's St. John's Morning Show on Thursday.

"From the beginning it was suspected that I have a spinal CSF leak. That's something I have never heard of before but quickly learned it's caused by a hole or tear in the dura [mater], which is a membrane that surrounds your brain and spine."

Hanrahan's condition causes debilitating headaches and other symptoms, she said, affecting her quality of life. She said trying to see a neurologist in St. John's proved to be a challenge and not much is known about her condition.

Two years ago, Hanrahan said, she begged her neurologist to refer her to a specialty centre at Duke University in North Carolina, but progress slowed down at the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Gerry Broome/The Associated Press
Gerry Broome/The Associated Press

She said her condition has worsened since then, but in April she got a second referral to travel to the U.S. and the process began again.

But this week's events at the airport have added anxiety to an already stressful time for Hanrahan. A lot of planning has gone into making the trip south, she said, and the recent surge in cases in the province has made things more difficult.

Tense situation

On Tuesday, when the airport announced it was halting the majority of its services due to staffing issues with its firefighters, Hanrahan said she couldn't believe it.

"My stomach just dropped," she said. "We had a tense 24 hours."

The airport initially extended operations until Friday at 8 a.m., which cut things a little close for Hanrahan.

"I guess I'm fortunate. My flight leaves [Friday] at 5:20 a.m.," she said, before the Saturday extension was announced.

"We're feeling pretty grateful right now that it looks like it's going to go ahead. I'm extremely grateful for that but really we're just getting in in the nick of time."

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