Travellers stranded as few flights depart
Canadian officials predict three or four more days of delays, limited airline service
By KEVIN COX AND STEVEN CHASE, The Globe and Mail
With reports from Jane Armstrong, Estanislao Oziewicz; and David Parkinson
Friday, September 14, 2001
HALIFAX and OTTAWA -- A fraction of Canada's normal airplane traffic began operating again yesterday but the dozens of flights departing airports across the country did little to diminish the throngs of anxious passengers still waiting for a ride home.
Some of the 30,000 diverted travellers, who have been stranded along with 240 planes at Canadian airports since Tuesday, learned they'll have to fly back to their points of origin before continuing to their destination.
New York resident Maria Murphy arrived at Halifax airport expecting to return home on the British Airways jet that had been grounded in the Nova Scotia city for the past three days.
Instead, she and more than 100 other passengers found out they would be returning to London, England, to start their journey over again because British Airways had recalled its planes.
"I've got to go to England to go to New York [and] I just flew across the pond," Ms. Murphy said.
"I just want to get home and see my family," she said, worrying about how long it would take to arrange a flight.
British Airways said last night that its full schedule of services from Britain to Canada is expected to resume tomorrow, but that flights to the United States would remain suspended for now.
Anthony Polci, spokesman for federal Transport Minister David Collenette, cautioned Canadians it could be "three or four days" before air travel across the country becomes close to normal.
Air Canada spokeswoman Laura Cooke said the carrier hoped to fly about 10 per cent of its normal schedule of flights yesterday -- less than 100 flights for the day. She said it could be between five and seven days before the airline is operating its full schedule.
At Vancouver International Airport, lines of weary travellers snaked through the terminal as domestic lineups stretched into international lines and vice versa. Airport staff handed out water to travellers and toys to children, but tempers were still fraying.
Frank Woehle of Germany stood patiently with his two young daughters, aged 4 and 2, while his wife Petra sought answers at the Air Transat booth. She returned looking frustrated and almost in tears. "They can't say anything," Ms. Woehle said.
Mr. Woehle, whose family had been scheduled to leave Vancouver on Wednesday, said his young girls were exhausted due to the long airport waits. "Our vacation is ruined," he said.
Stricter security slowed down flights across Canada, and at some airports, officials were confiscating any items that might be even remotely considered dangerous. At the Halifax airport, passengers were forced to surrender pocketknives, scissors and even fingernail clippers. These items were placed in envelopes and their owners promised they'd be returned in the mail.
Flights began moving in Halifax early yesterday morning with the first international flight headed for London's Heathrow airport at 3:40 a.m.
But several thousand stranded passengers spent a third night sleeping on mattresses in schools and emergency shelters as officials expected it would take until late today to clear the 40 aircraft from the runways.
At Toronto's Pearson International Airport, both national and international passengers appeared to take the disruption and delays with a great deal of equanimity.
Jim Phelan, a Calgary-based businessman waiting for an Air Canada flight to Western Canada, was surprised at how calm things were.
"I expected mass confusion and, in my mind, it's unbelievably controlled. It's calm, it's not excitable . . . Everyone understands the gravity of the situation. It's something that nobody can control and you've got to live with it."
Jim Page and his wife, Louise, came from Newtown, Mass., about a week ago for a holiday in Muskoka where Ms. Page has a century-old family connection.
They were supposed to return home Tuesday on American Airlines. They tried to rebook over the next three days but have been foiled.
Mr. Page said he and his wife are taking the delays in stride. "We're going to drive back to Muskoka."
At the airport in Fort McMurray, in northern Alberta, there were few indications that security had been tightened.
Security staff followed the traditional procedure of using metal-detecting wands to search people who set off the alarm on the metal-detection doorway, but went no further with their searches.