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Victorians struggle to get home—or away—amid winter weather disruptions

Locals spent their holidays in layover cities, with travel plans upended and extended by snow and ice

By Cameron Welch
December 25, 2022
Weather
News
Based on facts either observed and verified firsthand by the reporter, or reported and verified from knowledgeable sources.

Victorians struggle to get home—or away—amid winter weather disruptions

Locals spent their holidays in layover cities, with travel plans upended and extended by snow and ice

By Cameron Welch
Dec 25, 2022
A frozen view from YVR terminal. Photo: Mike MacNabb
A frozen view from YVR terminal. Photo: Mike MacNabb
Weather
News
Based on facts either observed and verified firsthand by the reporter, or reported and verified from knowledgeable sources.

Victorians struggle to get home—or away—amid winter weather disruptions

Locals spent their holidays in layover cities, with travel plans upended and extended by snow and ice

By Cameron Welch
December 25, 2022
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Victorians struggle to get home—or away—amid winter weather disruptions
A frozen view from YVR terminal. Photo: Mike MacNabb

For almost everyone, the snow and freezing rain that have struck BC this past week could not have come at a worse time. One of the biggest travel periods of the year—and for many, the first trip to see family in several years—has been completely upended by delays, cancellations, and dangerous conditions.

Getting in and out of the south Island became very complicated with so many ferries cut and bus service cancelled outright for long stretches, while the difficult and risky roads stymied both the people driving themselves and the ones relying on taxis.

Nationwide flight problems added another layer of difficulty and confusion. Daily flight cancellations at Victoria International Airport reached double digits for both incoming and outgoing, with many more delayed. For those flying to or from Vancouver International, or routing through it, there was even more flux caused by the week’s wild winter weather.

Delays alone are one thing. But for travellers who talked to Capital Daily, it was often uncertainty and lack of reliable information that really added stress to their weeks—and their wallets.

A cross-country trip becomes mid-country limbo

Janine Dukelow lives in Toronto, but had planned to return and see family for the holidays—a trip she doesn’t make often and isn’t sure when she’ll be able to take next. She carved out a little time to get away, with a multi-step Wednesday flight that was early enough to avoid the storms that hit Ontario this weekend. Departing Pearson was fine, as was arrival in Winnipeg—the snow was heavy, she said, but that’s par for the course there.  

But then the problems started: Her third flight, to Victoria, had been cancelled while she was in the air to Winnipeg, and her second flight to Calgary was delayed. She arrived in a near-empty Calgary airport around 1am.

“Any [hotel] remotely close to the airport was completely booked up, because so many people had cancelled flights at that point,” she said. “I was just scurrying, trying to find somewhere to sleep.”

Views from the hotel and airport where Dukelow ended up spending several would-be holiday days. Photos: Janine Dukelow

She ended up in downtown Calgary that night and remained in the city for three days, initially expecting to be re-booked and notified. But she said she got no updates from WestJet on refunds or re-bookings and so sought out flights herself, finding one for Sunday then pivoting to one on Saturday morning that she said also ended up cancelled, without notice.

After arriving back at the airport for a nonexistent flight, she stayed on the phone with the third-party booking site until she got a replacement. It turned out to only be standby, but she got a seat and finally arrived in Victoria mid-Christmas-Eve.

“I was just really sad and frustrated and wanting to be with my family because we live in different provinces.”

His 65th birthday present: a long shower and a sleep in a real bed

Those impromptu multi-day layovers were common for locals both coming and leaving, and some spent them in the airport itself. For Mike MacNabb, what was supposed to be a five-and-a-half-hour flight from YVR to Maui on Dec. 19 stretched into four days as one thing after another went wrong.

“We sat at the gate watching the snow coming down sideways with the winds,” he said in an email. They finally boarded after delays, then waited for the de-icing truck to refill its fluid, only to learn that the pilots had reached their maximum flying hours. By rule they could not fly the trip, and there were no replacements.

Not only was every nearby hotel full from the storm, MacNabb said, but all the airport benches already had a sleeping traveller in them, so he slept on the floor. Three hours on phone hold got the MacNabb delegation a replacement flight, and Mike spent another day at YVR awaiting it while watching people trudge through four-hour lineups to talk to airline reps.

But he went from an observer of the mass stress back to an unwilling participant in it when his replacement flight, like so many others, was cut.

Travellers sleep and line up for information at YVR. Photo: Mike MacNabb

They pivoted to routing through San Francisco, only to see the layover length dwindle due to more delays at YVR—they would have to run to make the new Maui flight.

“We managed to be the first off the plane and ran up the ramp (Run Forest Run!),” he said. But they quickly learned that a flight they’d just seen taking off had been theirs, and were put up in a hotel this time.

“Off to Costco in SF to buy underwear, socks, shirt, and pants,” MacNabb said. “Four days in the same clothes.” There he spent his 65th, “too tired and stressed to do anything except order in and sleep in a bed, and a long long shower.”

Finally they were narrowly able to get on a plane that actually left the ground—a lucky break, it turned out, since the other Maui flight next to them got shut down right after boarding.

Halfway there and back again

McNabb was one of the lucky people who actually got to their original destinations. Vincent Stone told Capital Daily that his family burned time and money desperately trying to get his wife onto her cross-Pacific flight only to find out it had already been cancelled. He said they were notified that her WestJet flight over to YVR was cancelled, but never saw anything from Philippine Airlines advising that her main flight from Vancouver to Manila wasn’t going ahead.

“She never would have travelled to Vancouver,” he said, if there had been a flight update online. The fruitless trip over the Salish Sea cost them more than $750 between the last-minute flight there, the return, and a hotel and taxis in between. That grew to over $1,000—on top of an international round trip that already cost thousands—with the loss they took on a Victoria staycation he and his daughter abandoned due to the weather and his wife’s situation.

“There really is a domino effect in a situation like this,” he said, wishing the airline had better advised its would-be passengers.

Extra costs at a time of holiday expenses and tight budgets

Dukelow is also frustrated with how little information she received, saying that she understands airlines were overwhelmed but that the overall situation “gets kind of predatory.” She and other desperate, rushed, exhausted travellers were often operating without being given full updates from the airlines, she said, and at times without being given the full details on room price by hotels or on ticket status by third-party sites.

A Seattle airport board filled with cancelled flights. Photo: Susan Ko

She expects that with the volume of disrupted travellers it will take a long time for any reimbursements, and is frustrated that that means last week’s stresses are still not over.

“Even if people managed to get to where they wanted to go, we still have to put up with more hassle. And I think that everybody who was screwed over will have to be proactive and do the work to get reimbursed.”

The costs of both un-reimbursed cancelled flights and expensive replacement flights will be hitting at a time when many are also struggling with the cost of living.

“You feel a bit of solidarity because there’s thousands of people that went through it [too],” Dukelow said, reflecting on the trip after reaching Victoria. “But that’s also awful [that it affected so many] and I can’t imagine how it impacted some people who are in really tight spots financially.”

No place like home

Like Stone, many locals ended up spending days and paying a premium to reverse their plans and simply spend the holiday at home.

“We felt so lucky that we decided to fly out of Seattle,” Susan Ko told Capital Daily, “as there was much less snow there.”

“We felt lucky until 10pm [Friday] night when our flight was cancelled because the flight lacked a pilot.”

Susan Ko and her partner in an icy Seattle, rather than balmy Las Vegas.

Her and her partner’s Vegas Christmas trip quickly turned into a scramble just to get back to Victoria and salvage some holiday time and money. They holed up in an airport hotel before trying to catch a float plane trip back—but it, too, ended up cancelled. In the hopes of at least being here for part of Christmas Day, they took an inter-city bus to Port Angeles and are on a Coho back over the border this morning.

Their Christmas Eve view captured much of what local travellers have ended up experiencing: A destination just across the water that started to really feel an ocean away, and a Victoria that abruptly turned from the place they were rushing to leave to the place they were rushing to get to.

The view from Port Angeles as Susan Ko made her journey back home.
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Cameron Welch
Newsletter Editor
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Victorians struggle to get home—or away—amid winter weather disruptions
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