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Stuck in Calgary on New Year’s Eve

First Person Exploits into the Unknown
calgary airport

Instead of an Everybody Has a Story entry, you’re going to get quite a story from me on how I spent my New Year’s Eve.

I spent it trying, mostly in vain, to fly back to Saskatchewan from Kelowna, where I had spent my Christmas holidays.

I know you were hoping for a more exciting story about how I was in Times Square celebrating the New Year. Tough luck.

To be honest, though, it had been a stressful few days in Kelowna, so much so that I think I need a vacation to recover from the vacation.

Mainly, I need a vacation from all the bad weather Canada is infamous for. Kelowna ended up getting snowed upon for days; the whole place was covered by the white stuff. The reports out of Vancouver and the “lower mainland” were even worse, with the Fraser Valley in particular getting ice-slick road conditions from the rain and snow that was falling.

As for the forecast for the day I was scheduled to leave Kelowna, Dec. 31, I didn’t know what I was in for. What I knew for sure was that it had been total mayhem at the Calgary airport, where I was supposed to change planes for my flight back to Saskatoon.

On Dec. 30, WestJet was reporting 41 flight cancellations out of Calgary that day, because they had run out of de-icers for the planes in the minus 30 cold at the airport.

So obviously, I was not looking forward to going to the airport Sunday morning.

I thought I was going to be in for big problems once my flight landed in Calgary. Little did I know that the problems were going to start right there in Kelowna.

My WestJet flight was supposed to take off around 11 a.m., arrive in Calgary, and then I would have approximately 55 minutes to change planes for the next flight. That was the plan.

For whatever reason, my flight was delayed by a half-hour. Then came the announcement that it was delayed by another half hour!

Needless to say, I was worried. I went to the WestJet desk to ask if my connections were still good, and they were saying, “Oh, yeah, all connections are good.”

Anyway, the good news was that I still had a plane to catch. Air Canada passengers were not so fortunate. One of their planes had trouble landing, so it ended up turning around and going back to Vancouver. Their flight out of Kelowna was cancelled. Worse yet, Air Canada also announced that the rest of their planes were fully booked for the rest of the day. Passengers were given a 1-800 number to call for assistance.

The reaction from those passengers was exactly what you would expect, with a lot of angry customers. You could hear people saying “Air Canada sucks!”     

I finally got on my WestJet flight, which was an hour late, and took off for Calgary, still getting assurances that my connections to Saskatoon were good. When we landed, we got an announcement that anyone with flight connections to Saskatoon should go to the Care Centre.

What the heck was this, the “Care Centre”?

I had to stand in line with a whole bunch of other frustrated passengers to get rebooked onto another flight. So much for claims of “all connections are good!” I ended up being given a boarding pass for a later flight to Saskatoon that was due to leave at 8 p.m. at night; it wasn’t even a window seat, either.  

All my great planning was out the window: I had specifically booked my return trip so it would arrive back in Saskatoon in the afternoon, so I wouldn’t have to drive to North Battleford in the middle of the night on New Year’s Eve. Oh, well.

Instead of sitting in the Calgary airport for six hours, I decided, hey, here was an opportunity to spend the day in the city and see what was happening.

I ended up taking a bus downtown, but unfortunately it took a long time for the bus to arrive at the airport. Then, it was another 45 minutes before I was dropped off at the Calgary Tower downtown.

My hope was to find a good place to eat. Unfortunately, by that point all the shopping centres and food courts were closing up. The only place I could find open was a McDonald’s. I went in there and ordered a hamburger, fries and Coke.

You would think McDonald’s would be a more upscale type of place, but this place clearly had seen better days. One customer sitting across the aisle from me pointed to one of the other patrons, who looked like he was about to keel over. He remarked this fellow was hooked on crystal meth and fentanyl, and just shook his head in dismay.

The local cops then arrived to deal with the situation, and they were asking this individual if he had a place to stay for the night because it was going to be minus 30. 

What a depressing scene. I don’t know whether it was the sorry scene at McDonald’s, or the minus 30 conditions or what it was, but downtown Calgary just struck me as depressing.

There also seemed to be a lot of empty and boarded-up spaces in the buildings I was walking in while killing time in the afternoon. Maybe it was a case of being there at the wrong time on the wrong day, but I came away thinking the oil crash had done quite a number. Calgary seemed to have gone straight to heck since the last time I was there.

Finally, I stood out in the minus 30 cold to wait for the bus, and got back to the airport in plenty of time for my plane to Saskatoon.

Thankfully, I arrived in one piece and was able to start the car and drive back to the Battlefords.

So, that was my experience on New Year’s Eve. Why I am sharing this story with you? Because I am in the news business, and the big news at the end of 2017 were all these flight delays due to snow and terrible conditions.

What’s more, it hasn’t stopped: there was total chaos in Toronto due to snow conditions there on Jan. 1 and 2, with hundreds of flight delays or cancellations.

Then you had this latest snowstorm that was due to hit the eastern USA and into the Maritimes!

This is simply yet another reminder to everyone that this is winter, and that you should always expect the worst at this time of year.

So if you’re travelling by air this year, be prepared for the worst, and be patient. Besides, in these conditions you are sometimes better off with your plane staying on the ground than taking any chances. Then maybe you get to spend the day seeing the city you’re stuck in trying to get home.