Passengers scramble for flights home
Foreign travellers face delays, detours as airlines ramp up to regular schedules
By STEVEN CHASE AND KEVIN COX, The Globe and Mail
With reports from Robert Matas in Vancouver; Jane Gadd in Toronto and Jill Mahoney in Edmonton
Saturday, September 15, 2001
OTTAWA and HALIFAX -- Confused, exhausted, and in some cases ready to rebel, grounded air travellers across Canada muddled through a fourth day of disruption at airports as a backlog of flights slowly cleared.
Lucy Wright, a linguistics student from the University of Sussex, wept with relief at Toronto's Pearson International Airport yesterday when she was handed a reservation for a late-night Air Canada flight back to England.
"I have no money left," she said, crying. "At first they said I should take a 12-hour bus ride to Chicago and go from there [but] I was terrified of being stranded there."
In Halifax, officials scrambled for buses and boats to ferry home more than 700 stranded American air passengers -- some of whom had balked at reboarding planes they'd been told must return to European points of origin before continuing to the United States.
"In some cases they [passengers] have refused to get on the planes or even to leave our [billeting] centres," said John O'Brien, spokesman for the Halifax Regional Municipality.
The Americans were on board European airlines that were forced to land in Canada on Tuesday after the terrorist attacks in New York and Washington.
Anthony Polci, spokesman for Trade Minister David Collenette, said as much as 80 per cent of regularly scheduled flights within Canada were now operating and international flights to destinations other than the United States were rising in number.
He estimated that things could return to normal in many quarters of Canada's air industry by next week.
Few, if any flights, however, were heading to the United States yesterday because American airspace remained a patchwork of restrictions and reopened areas that will hinder U.S.-bound planes for several more days.
The prospect of permanently closing one major American airport -- Ronald Reagan Washington National Airport -- is now an open question because of its proximity to federal buildings in the U.S. capital.
Across Canada, one-third of 240 foreign planes diverted to this country after Tuesday's terrorist attacks still remained on Canadian tarmacs yesterday afternoon as officials struggled to send them home.
Travellers endured stricter scrutiny by airport security officials, including the prohibition of a bevy of household objects that might have easily passed checkpoints before. WestJet Airlines warned its passengers against packing any "knife-like" objects including even knitting needles that could be seized by authorities.
The scene at Vancouver's airport was organized chaos. The lineup for domestic flights, which stretched more than 500 metres, went through the terminal and onto the sidewalk, past the international-departures area and the airport hotel.
After four days of waiting, some stranded U.S. passengers in Vancouver were jumping at any chance to head home.
"Where's Calgary?" asked Velma Taylor, who had been trying to fly out of Vancouver since Tuesday. "Is that near Toronto?" Ms. Taylor, from Washington, D.C., and her friend, leaped at a chance to go to Calgary. They hoped it would take them closer to home, even though they had to buy new tickets.