Coast-to-coast snowstorms wreaked havoc on Christmas travel plans across Canada last week. A total of 323 flights were cancelled by December 23 at Vancouver International Airport and the flight delays and cancellations weren't any better in Toronto.
But in the Northwest Territories, it was the little guys who stepped up to make a big difference for northern travellers. Both Northwestern Air Lease and Air Tindi took measures to ensure northerners made it home for the holidays.
While other airlines were cancelling flights, Air Tindi offered an extra charter from Edmonton to Yellowknife.
"To help stranded passengers get south and come north, before Christmas, [Air Tindi Ltd.] has put on another Edmonton Express charter," the company tweeted.
Northwestern Air Lease (NWAL) in Fort Smith, N.W.T., also maintained its schedule without cancellations and even held up some flights leaving Edmonton for as long as possible so delayed passengers could make it home.
Vice President of NWAL Brian Harrold said the company usually tries to hold flights if passengers notify them ahead of time but that's usually for only around 20 minutes. This year, one flight was held in Edmonton for almost five hours.
"This was a long one," said Harrold. "They were a bunch of college students trying to get home for Christmas."
Jed Mitchell was on that flight, he's currently going to university in Montreal. His previous flight out of Toronto wasn't delayed but he was glad for the decision to wait for the other passengers.
"I wasn't too upset. I thought it was pretty nice what they were doing, hold up the flight so that everyone got home for Christmas," said Mitchell.
Mitchell also benefited from the hold-up. His luggage didn't make it from Toronto so he was stuck in baggage services for an hour and a half trying to sort that out.
He was also able to catch up with a childhood friend who was among the students held up in Vancouver and expected on the NWAL flight.
"It was kinda nice to be able to see him," said Mitchell. "We grew up together so we were able to talk with each other on the flight back."
Mitchell also added that the rest of the passengers on the plane didn't seem too upset with the delay either.
"If I was in those shoes and I was flying back to join my family and they had taken off, and I'd have to spend the night in the airport — that wouldn't be too much fun," he said.
Harrold said with NWAL being the only airline flying in and out of Fort Smith, it was the right thing to make sure everyone make it home to family.
Change in regulations
But Harrold said things may soon change. As of last month, Transport Canada has introduced regulations aimed at reducing fatigue-related errors from pilots.
This will mean that in order for an airline to delay a flight, there will need to be unforeseen operational setbacks — such as unexpected adverse weather, equipment malfunctions or air traffic control delays beyond the control of the pilot.
"Transport [Canada] does not consider us waiting for a passenger because their family member is sick or dying … an emergency situation," said Harrold.
Harrold said the airline could face fines for working outside those regulations but said they will still wait as long as they can for passengers if it's possible. Those wait will likely be more in the 30-minute range, he said.
He said he understands the change in regulations but said it's still not ideal for northerners hoping to get home amid flight delays or dealing with family emergencies.
"We can't always do it," said Harrold. "But we try to do what we can."