Not always a smooth flight

Flying to a sunny locale in the depth of the Canadian winter could have delay printed right on the ticket for many passengers. At the height of the January winter storms, WestJet recorded 200 flight cancellations – preventing around 22,000 passengers from getting to their destination on time.

By Grace Kennedy

kennedy-airport
Flight delays can be caused by many factors and are not always limited to the weather. (Grace Kennedy/Peninsula News)

With the YHZ airport under construction and winter weather underway, delays could cause trouble for some spring breakers.

Flying to a sunny locale in the depth of the Canadian winter could have delay printed right on the ticket for many passengers. At the height of the January winter storms, WestJet recorded 200 flight cancellations – preventing around 22,000 passengers from getting to their destination on time.

However, WestJet spokesperson Brie Ogle said in an email that only about half of all flight delays are caused by weather. Although there are too many factors to get specific, the email continued, most other delays are for mechanical and operational reasons.

“If something happens on the plane – a light in the cockpit goes off, that is something that will need to be inspected,” Erin Sonntag, duty manager for WestJet at the Halifax International Airport, said.

“It’s a little different than when a light goes off in your car, you’re usually okay to drive if it’s showing some sort of indicator, but with aircrafts they don’t just assume that that light means that one thing, they’ll probably do a little bit more investigating just to be sure. It has to be safe.”

Any delay can cause a backlog in the flight system, especially for an airport like the Halifax airport where many of the flights go between Toronto and St. John’s, Newfoundland – areas with particular weather concerns.

Checking in

Although the airlines decide on whether a flight is cancelled or delayed, stress can also come from the airport itself. The YHZ website currently cautions travellers about construction on the main entrance to the airport, asking them to arrive early to avoid any confusion and delay while the entrance is being redone.

According to Dean Bouchard, director of infrastructure and commercial development for the Halifax International Airport Authority, the construction hasn’t hindered passengers from getting to their planes and could make the process easier in the future.

Since the airport’s last renovation in 1998, passenger traffic has increased 50 per cent, Bouchard said. The way people check in has also become radically different, with self-serve kiosks becoming an international norm.

Because of this, the airport is increasing the check in area by nine metres, moving the back wall to allow room for both the kiosk lines and the attendant lines. The airport also purchased self-serve baggage drops for larger airlines, which Bouchard hopes will be able to eliminate some lines entirely.

“We know that when people come to the airport, they’re typically stressed, a lot of people are very rushed,” he said, “so we’re trying to make this as easy as possible for them when they get here and that usually means short lines, I can get to where I need to go quickly, and once people sit down at their gate, they relax. And so we’re trying to get them to that relaxation point as quickly as we can.”

Coming home

Although that may alleviate the worries of some passengers, for people at the other end of the airport, relaxation may not come so easily.

Kelly Crossman was waiting to pick up her cousin coming from Florida for over two hours on Feb. 26, and was unable to find information for how long the delay would be.

“When you come to the airport, you don’t know what’s going to happen, it’s a lot of delays,” she said. “But I just didn’t think that Florida would have a delay, because it’s supposed to be clear. Anything can happen I guess.”

Passengers checking into a Sunwing flight are surrounded by construction of the new entrance area. (Grace Kennedy/Peninsula News)


Sonntag on understanding in the airline industry.

CORRECTION: March 7, 2014 | An earlier version of this story contained the wrong airport code. The correct code is YHZ.