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Opinion: Pack your patience

Current travel conditions are stressful—but worth it if you've got the travel bug
airport wait july 2022
If you're part of the 12 per cent of Canadians who told a recent Nanos poll they have no intent to cancel the international travel plans they made this summer, make sure you pack your patience.

I woke up and automatically reached for my phone to check the time. My flight was scheduled to leave at noon, and Air Canada recommended arriving at YVR three hours before my flight. The app referenced higher-than-usual volume at airports, or something along those lines. 

But it wasn’t my alarm that woke me up. It was a 3 a.m. automated text from Air Canada notifying me that my flight to Toronto would be delayed an hour. I wasn’t stressed. Even with a delay, I’d have a one-hour layover at Pearson—usually more than enough time to make my connecting flight to Amsterdam. 

I fell back asleep, eventually waking up three hours later to my actual alarm. I immediately noticed a second text from Air Canada: the plane was delayed again, and was now scheduled to land exactly one minute after my flight to Amsterdam was due to take off. The next flight to the Netherlands wasn’t until the following day.

Sh*t. 

I still wasn’t stressed, exactly. Missing out on one night of accommodation wouldn’t be the end of the world, but with the state of Air Canada’s phone lines recently, rebooking flights and trying to get the airline to cover a hotel room in Toronto wasn’t how I dreamt of spending my first day of vacation. There was, however, an earlier flight to Toronto that would get me there in time for my connection—if I could get to YVR in time. 

I hightailed it to the airport and was greeted by easily the longest check-in lines I’ve ever seen in Vancouver—even the queue for Air Canada’s priority counter was a good 40 people deep. The only check-in counter without a substantial wait was the top-tier Super Elite™ desk, where an employee mercifully turned a blind eye to the fact that I didn’t have any business being there and rebooked me on the earlier flight. Thanks solely to that agent and my misplaced confidence in airport settings, I managed to power-walk to the gate just in time for boarding. 

The punch line? My flight to Amsterdam ended up being delayed by three hours—my original flight would've arrived in Toronto in time for my connection after all. 

Thankfully, those unproblematic delays ended up being arguably the biggest travel hurdle I had to deal with in three weeks moving around Western Europe last month. I kept waiting for the other shoe to drop, arriving at airports hours earlier than I ever have before. Some lines were on the long side and every flight I boarded was delayed by at least a few minutes, but none of these inconveniences were ever enough to ruin a day. But according to headlines, social media and conversations with other travellers, that makes me the exception. 

A few of the worst horror stories I’ve heard in recent weeks include a four-and-a-half-hour wait in a security line at Schipol Airport; a two-hour wait for security in Toronto followed by another two-hour wait for customs; lost-forever luggage and cancelled flights due to striking Ryanair staff leading to thousands spent on last-minute accommodation and rebooked journeys. 

Last week, Air Canada saw 65 per cent of its flights arrive late, according to the Canadian Press, while Toronto’s Pearson Airport was the only one in the world to see more than half of its departures delayed. In late June, the airline announced its intent to cut 154 flights, on average, from its schedule each day for the remainder of the summer.

These issues have bigger repercussions than ruining someone’s holiday: as CBC reported July 12, about 60 patients on Quebec’s remote Magdalen Islands will have to wait two more months to receive specialized care after a Montreal doctor’s Air Canada flight to see them was cancelled.

It’s the result of a perfect post-pandemic storm brought on by a pent-up longing to travel—undeterred by long passport waits and record inflation—and a debilitating staff shortage, after so many were laid off when air travel ground to a near-halt more than two years ago. 

In an open letter, Air Canada’s president said “people are returning to flying at a rate never seen in our industry,” causing “unprecedented and unforeseen strains on all aspects of the global aviation system.”

Unforeseen? Who couldn’t have seen this coming? Wouldn’t Air Canada’s booking rate have provided at least a hint? From my view, the air travel industry dropped the ball when it had plenty of time to prepare and is now struggling to catch up at customers’ expense. These companies need to figure it out, but I have zero faith that will happen before the end of the summer travel rush.

That said, the current travel conditions at the moment aren’t enough to make me reconsider taking a trip, even if does make the experience of getting on a plane more chaotic than ever. I feel exceptionally lucky mine went as smoothly as it did, but I’m fairly certain that even the stress of cancelled flights couldn’t overshadow the pure joy I felt pulling my passport out of the drawer for the first time since 2019.  

But if you’re part of the 12 per cent of Canadians who told a recent Nanos poll they have no intent to cancel the international travel plans they made this summer, make sure you pack your patience.