YVR pledges improvements after holiday travel chaos

A traveller rests on the baggage claim carousel at Vancouver International Airport after a heavy snowfall led to a complete suspension of flights on Dec. 20, 2022. (Ben Nelms/CBC - image credit)
A traveller rests on the baggage claim carousel at Vancouver International Airport after a heavy snowfall led to a complete suspension of flights on Dec. 20, 2022. (Ben Nelms/CBC - image credit)

The Vancouver International Airport (YVR) is pledging to do better in the aftermath of a holiday travel season that saw thousands of travellers stranded and hundreds of flights cancelled or delayed.

Tamara Vrooman, the president and CEO of the Vancouver Airport Authority, which runs YVR, said an "enhanced after-action review" will be launched next week involving stakeholders and the travelling public.

"I feel for the thousands of people who had their holiday plans disrupted, particularly this year, the first year when most of the travel restrictions for the pandemic were lifted," she told Gloria Macarenko, the host of CBC's On the Coast.

"I think what this experience does is allow us to really look at the processes that we've had in place here at the airport for literally 30 years that served us well in the past for the past context but need to be improved," said Vrooman.

Vrooman said weather forecasting and communications co-ordination are some of the obvious areas needing an overhaul.

"I think most people understand that weather disrupts, but what they need is information to make an informed decision. Should I hang out at the airport and wait, or should I go home because the flight is not delayed, it's actually cancelled, and it's not going to fly," she said.

"I was on the floor with passengers day and night, and I heard from many of them that they just simply didn't have the information they needed to make an informed decision."

Ben Nelms/CBC
Ben Nelms/CBC

In the days before Christmas, YVR arranged for 400 rooms at local hotels and restaurant gift cards, free of charge, to passengers facing overnight delays.

Heavy snowfall brought flights leaving YVR to a complete halt on Dec. 20, with WestJet alone cancelling more than 400 flights system-wide during what is typically the busiest travel week of the year.

The knock-on impacts lasted for weeks, with people stranded and baggage piling up all over the airport. Vrooman said baggage handler and ground crew staff shortages exacerbated the problems.

"When a plane is delayed, or it's the wrong plane and the wrong place because of conditions elsewhere, you get a mismatch between aircraft passengers and bags ... particularly at hub airports, which is what Vancouver is," said Vrooman.

The holiday travel chaos wasn't restricted to Vancouver, and a parliamentary committee is now asking airlines and airport authorities to explain the widespread disruptions.

Vrooman said she told the committee YVR was fully prepared for winter conditions but that "we did experience some unique conditions that had people held on the tarmac here for extended periods of time, which was totally unacceptable."

She said YVR has already implemented some preliminary measures in the event of more disruptive weather.